Councillors appeal for rates help for local businesses

Cllr Ken Robinson.
Cllr Ken Robinson.

COUNCILLORS Ken Robinson and Mark Cosgrove have made a plea to the council to try and reduce the rates burden on businesses in the borough.

They made the call at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Governance Committee last week, during a debate on the draft estimates for next year’s rates.

Council chief executive, Jacqui Dixon, said current projections would see a rate of 2.2 per cent levied on Newtownabbey ratepayers at the beginning of the next financial year.

However, she also said that work was ongoing to try and keep that rate as low as possible, and there was a chance the rate could come under two per cent for domestic households before for the start of the financial year in April.

Councillor Robinson commented: “In general, work has been going on to keep the rate increase as low as possible, but I would ask the council officers to look specifically at the non-domestic rate for businesses, and see if there is anything that can be done to ease the rate burden for them.”

Councillor Mark Cosgrove, a director of logistics firm Redhead International, added: “Having recently moved a business to the borough, I was shocked at the rates bill that we received. I had budgeted for £30,000, and it came in at almost £50,000.

“We must look to keep the rates as low as possible for business, as it could mean the difference between people staying in business and employing people or going out of business.”

Chief executive Jacqui Dixon said she was “unaware” of any measure the council could take to reduce the non-domestic rate, but said certain businesses could qualify for rates exemption under a Stormont scheme.

Paul Girvan added: “The rates relief scheme has been extended recently for those businesses valued up to £5,000 to £10,000, and that should be extended for 2013/14 to £15,000.

“Hopefully, this will mean that more of the borough’s businesses will be able to take up the scheme and help reduce their outgoings and encourage growth.

“I know work has been going on to try to keep next year’s rate increase under two per cent and hopefully that will be the case.

“But it remains the case that we are looking at an increase less than the rate of inflation, which has to be welcomed.”

During the discussion, councillors also issued fears about the forthcoming amalgamation with Antrim Borough Council, and how that would affect Newtownabbey ratepayers.

Alderman John Blair said: “Our officers are working hard to keep rates to an absolute minimum and they are significantly lower than Antrim’s and I would urge that more pressure is put on others to bring them into line with us.”

Councillor Mark Cosgrove also asked if a letter which the council agreed to write to the Finance Minister some months ago asking if central government would cover the cost of the amalgamations of the two councils had been responded to.

He was told that it had not.

“I have always argued that any change of councils should be cost neutral, and that central government should pick up the tab,” he commented.