Durkan hits back over rates grant

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan. 18.12.68
Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan. 18.12.68

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has accused Sinn Fein of agreeing to cut grant aid designed to help poorer councils including Derry & Strabane.

Mr Durkan was responding directly Sinn Féin Councillor, Paul Fleming, called on him to increase the Rates Support Grant for Derry & Strabane .

Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Fleming .

Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Fleming .

Colr. Fleming said: “The Rates Support Grant is a vital contribution from central government and provides less well-off Councils with the means to provide public services and reduce the burden on rate payers.

“The Derry City & Strabane District Council area is the victim of significant socio-economic deprivation.

“Undue delay by the minister in announcing support grant levels could result in councils striking a higher than necessary rate, thereby disadvantaging rate payers. Or even worse, if councils strike a rate which is not properly supplemented by the Rates Support Grant it could result in reduction in services.”

Colr. Fleming added: “Following a reduction in support last year Sinn Féin is calling on him to ensure that increased funding is available this year.

“Minister Durkan needs to act with urgency as we are running out of time before the rates have to be struck.”

Mr Durkan has now responded: “As the Minster responsible for local government I am very conscious of the importance that the rates support grant provides to less well off councils, including Derry City and Strabane District Council.

“Last January Sinn Fein Ministers in the Executive and Sinn Fein MLAs in the Assembly voted in favour of cutting my department’s funding for the Rate Support Grant.

“That meant the total grant was cut by £2.8 million with a cut of over half a million pounds (£556,637) applied to Derry City and Strabane District Council at the start of the year. However I have worked hard to make savings elsewhere in my department’s budget this year to make good these cuts. That has meant I have been able to restore most of the cut to Derry and Strabane with an allocation to them of £417,478 in December. I remain committed to doing everything I can to restore in full the cut.

“For next year Sinn Fein Minsters have again voted in favour of cutting the funding for Rates Support Grant in my Department’s Budget. I argued strongly to have this funding protected and ring fenced, but my arguments have again fallen on deaf ears. There is still time for action to be taken to protect this funding before the Budget for next year is finalised – but time is running out.”