‘No decision’ on proposals to cut rates grant for Derry, Strabane

Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion.
Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion.

The Department for Communities has said no decision has been made in relation to cuts in the rates grant for Derry & Strabane for the forthcoming year, amid concerns over proposals to slash funding.

The Department was responding after Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said the proposals to cut the grant, which helps reduce rates bills in poorer council areas including Derry & Strabane, was “an attack on the most vulnerable and should be axed.”

Mrs. McCallion said: “The rates support grant is a key inequality measure that helps the seven less well-off council areas keep the rates base as low as possible.

“In the Derry and Strabane District Council, they are proposing a cut of almost £150,000. That is a relatively small sum in the context of the overall council budget but it hugely significant in terms of a fund which is a key measure in tackling inequality.

“Measures which are in place to assist the most vulnerable areas and citizens should not be targeted by cuts. We all understand that departments are under pressure as a result of Tory-DUP cuts to the overall budget but these should not be forced onto those who can least afford it.”

Mrs. McCallion said she is now seeking a meeting with the lead official in the Department. “I will be pressing for an immediate reversal of this decision. I hope that the other council areas and parties support me in that.”

A spokesperson for the Department responded: “The Department for Communities, similar to most other public bodies has had to operate within constrained budgets over recent years as funding is redirected to higher priority public services.

“This year an overall reduction of four per cent was applied to the Department’s funding. In line with this, four per cent reductions were applied across the public bodies supported financially by the Department, including the rate support grant provided to councils.

“No decision have yet been made on next year’s budget (2018/19). This will be for consideration by incoming Ministers.

“In December 2017, the Department of Finance published a budget briefing document setting out a number of scenarios for budget reductions for the next two financial years ranging from four per cent to 12 per cent.

“Once final budget allocations have been made to the Department for next year, then we will be able to assess the impacts for the public bodies supported by departmental funding. Therefore the budget position for next year remains unclear at present.”