Attwood must step up to the plate on RPA - Flanagan
Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Phil Flanagan has called for the Environment Minister Alex Attwood to step up, show some positive leadership and seek a resolution to the issue of a potential rise in rates as a result of the Review of Public Administration and the amalgamation of Fermanagh & Omagh District Councils.
Speaking in the Assembly on the Draft Local Government (Boundaries) Order 2012 this afternoon, Mr Flanagan said:
"I welcome the long-awaited progress of the Order. In my county of Fermanagh, there is genuine fear and deep apprehension among the business community and many households about a potential rise in rates as a result of the amalgamation of Fermanagh and Omagh district councils.
"As a Fermanagh-based MLA, I am keen to ensure that the effect of any potential rates increase is mitigated as best as possible and that businesses and households do not feel the burden of much needed reorganisation in local government.
"To date, there has been significant local speculation about the impact of RPA on ratepayers in Fermanagh. However, it is much too early for anyone to speculate on the potential financial impact on Fermanagh ratepayers, except to say that the differential between the rates in Fermanagh and Omagh will be reduced.
"For anyone to talk of an 18%, 20% or even 25% rise in rates in Fermanagh is neither helpful nor accurate. The purpose of RPA is to reduce the level of bureaucracy, inefficiency and, indeed, the overall cost of local government across the North. That is what we as an Assembly need to ensure happens, but it cannot be done at the expense of ratepayers such as those in Fermanagh. What we need to aim for is a fair and acceptable solution to the problem before us.
"It is up to the Executive to deliver on RPA, but the Minister must take the lead. The Minister needs to bring these to the Executive. He must seek investment from the Executive to offset issues such as the differential in rates and historical debt between Fermanagh and Omagh.
"Before this debate got up and running again, my party colleague Michelle Gildernew asked the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster for her assessment of the potential impact of Fermanagh District Council and Omagh District Council amalgamating. As a local MLA, I know that the Minister will be aware of the issues. However, responding as Minister, her only comment was about the collaboration and co-operation between Fermanagh and Omagh on the Survive and Thrive project. She made no reference to a potential rates increase for businesses, which is quite disappointing.
"Neither ratepayers nor any local council can be expected to take the hit for much-needed reform. It is completely unacceptable for any Minister not to take that seriously on board and provide answers on how they plan to address these issues. Earlier, the Minister said that he received correspondence from several business organisations in Fermanagh. I received similar correspondence, and I share many of their fears. Those correspondents articulately outline their concerns about the impacts of RPA.
"The Minister also said that he received correspondence from me on that matter through written questions. To date I have not received a response. It is not acceptable that he refuses to answer those concerns or provide us with any kind of solution.
"It is time that the Minister stepped up to the plate, showed some positive leadership and sought a resolution to the many problems in the RPA process, because the Executive have agreed that we are moving forward on an 11-council model. We all need to row in behind that and ensure that it is a fair process for every ratepayer in this state."