Working group to oversee council finances as cost of living bites

A working group will be set up by Derry City and Strabane council to oversee council finances.

By Gillian Anderson
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 12:10 pm

The meeting, which will be held bi-monthly, will allow for in depth examination of the finances to help provide for prudent decision making when it comes to setting the rates next year.

The notice of motion was brought forward by Sinn Féin Councillor John McGowan, who addressed the Chamber saying: “It’s clear we are heading into a very difficult year and it really looks like the British government aren’t prepared to intervene to help ordinary people who are suffering from the cost of living crisis.

“As a public representative I’m concerned about what effect these rising costs will have on our council budgets. We’ve already seen some of the huge increases in fuel contracts right across the district and how that will affect budgets we made last year when this crisis wasn’t as bad.

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Derry's Guildhall.

“Like every business we need to look at these figures closely and we have to factor them into our plans when we are looking at things like staff pay rises, capital projects, community festivals and programmes and headline events which bring the tourists we need to bring to this city. I’m calling for a working group to be established to work alongside the council officers and to scrutinise our financial position on a bi-monthly basis so this can help us prepare our annual rates-setting process and have a much firmer understanding where these cost pressures will lie.

“I think for many years many parties in the Chamber have looked for lower rates, maybe even zero rates, without considering the implications on council’s ability to deliver services for its citizens.

“This working group will see all elected representatives get a clear understanding of where our financial position is and hopefully allow us to collectively agree on a rates figure which meets what the council’s needs are without putting pressure on our citizens. It’s the times we are in and we need to look ahead.”

Fully agreeing, Alliance Councillor Philip McKinney added: “I do believe a group like this will help councillors strike a fair rate next year and that’s what we all want.”

Describing the current situation as ‘critical’, SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell commented: “We have a cost of living crisis, we have a society plagued with stagnant wages and we have a complete absence of institutions at Stormont which could, if the DUP got their act together, provide meaningful support for families and households across the north.

“It is our duty as councillors to ensure that spending represents value for money for ratepayers and it’s even more critical now given the growing financial pressures faced by families and individuals across our city and district.”

With all parties unanimously supporting the proposal, Councillor McGowan concluded: “We have to be prudent as we move forward. I don’t think in a normal year we would need to be doing this but we are heading into very difficult times.”

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