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Douglas rate set at 419p for the 2018-2019 financial year

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 14:37

The rate levy for the Borough of Douglas has been set at 419p for the 2018-2019 financial year.


The rate represents a 2.7 per cent increase over the previous year and is set against the backdrop of the December 2017 Manx RPI inflation figure of 6.9 per cent.


The announcement was made by the Leader of the Council, Councillor David Christian MBE JP, at a public meeting of the Council held on Wednesday January 31, 2018 when he presented his Annual Review and Presentation of the Budget: ‘a budget of investment’ reflecting past prudency and clear direction for the future.


With 2018 designated The Year of Our Island Councillor Christian said 2018 would also be ‘The Year of Our Capital’ when the Council would be working ‘to secure the brightest prospects for the town’.


The need to fuel the Island’s economic growth, transform its skills base and reduce its carbon footprint would present challenges for the Council. ‘But what’s important is how the Council responds to those challenges,’ said Councillor Christian.


He went on to say that another challenge – the recent rise in interest rates – had led to the budget including £44,000 of extra rate-borne interest cost on existing loans taken out by the Council to finance capital investment.


Expanding on the ‘budget of investment’ theme Councillor Christian said that for some two decades the Council had continued ‘investing in the future’, citing housing, Shaw’s Brow car park, Ballacottier service centre, the Meadows Pavilion at Douglas golf course and Noble’s Park Pavilion as examples, along with the regeneration of the North Quay.


More recently, private sector investment, such as the arrival of JD Sports and Flannels, along with a number of smaller independent outlets and the Premier Inn development, represented ‘a multi-million-pound vote of confidence in Douglas’.


Turning to the proposed upgrading of Douglas promenade, Councillor Christian said that the Council had committed more than £800,000 to a new bespoke LED lighting scheme for the length of the promenade that would reflect the latter’s role ‘as the gateway to our Island’.


Ahead of the scheme the Council was already making improvements. Councillor Christian said that in response to regular promenade users the Council would be removing and landscaping over the existing underground toilets and installing new public toilets on Queen’s Promenade, an investment of £104,000.


He went on to say: ‘It is the collective responsibility of all of us involved that we create a town where generations to come will want to be. For example, we have been lobbying for more town-centre parking, but not for vacant plots to be used as car parks.’


He said the preferred option would be the creation, in partnership with government, of a new multi-storey car park in Market Street with a link into the main shopping area.  ‘Hopefully this will lead to a major financial commitment from the Department of Infrastructure,’ he added.


Devolving management of Chester Street and Drumgold Street car parks to the Council led Councillor Christian to emphasise the benefits of localisation. ‘Local authorities are closer to the people they serve and more sensitive to the issues that matter to them. They also have the insight and knowledge to respond quicker and more effectively to people’s needs,’ he said and called for the government to give ‘urgent consideration’ to devolving social housing management to local government.


Managing a housing stock of more than 2,350 properties valued, as of March 31, 2017, at £235 million demonstrated the Council’s ‘prudent financial management’, said Councillor Christian adding: ‘Against the Council’s record of below inflation or no increase in the rate for the last nine years, we have continued to invest in our assets, absorb inflation and pay increased tipping charges.


In closing he said: ‘With Manx RPI running at close to seven per cent, to have levied a standstill rate this morning would be unsustainable. It would also be totally unrealistic…and this is a Council that lives very much in the real world.’



Other points from the Annual Review and Presentation of the Budget:


• Rate collection for the 2016-2017 financial year maintained at 99.3 per cent within the year;


• Headcount and overtime savings of more than £1 million achieved since 2012;


• Budget includes £55,000 in upgrades to Summerhill Glen;


• Budget also includes £25,000 to adopt Manx Living Wage for Council’s permanent workforce. All Council’s permanent workforce to be paid at least the Living Wage with effect from February 1, 2018;


• New water play area and new £195,000 skatepark for Noble’s Park;


• CCTV network coverage expanded to Noble’s Park and Pulrose shops;


• New websites for Douglas Town Management and Henry Bloom Noble Library and increased payment functionality for Council’s website.


Ahead of Councillor Christian’s Annual Review and Presentation of the Budget the Chair of the Housing Committee Councillor Claire Wells moved the Housing Budget.


In doing so Councillor Wells spoke of the challenges to deliver ‘an affordable, equitable public housing service’ when, at times, the Department of Infrastructure’s stance on service delivery was at variance with that of the Council.


By way of example she cited pressure on the capped maintenance budget which continued to constrain housing stock upkeep and the delay to the proposed Willaston sheltered housing complex to allow for a re-design acceptable to the Department.


External refurbishment of Willaston properties continued as part of an overall £36 million investment, 265 kitchens had been replaced and project plans developed for the renewal of paths and fences, upgrading fire alarms and external refurbishment to houses in Spring Valley.


Councillor Wells went on to pay tribute to the Council’s tenants for keeping their rental payments up to date despite ‘a tough economic climate’. Turning to how best to protect the most vulnerable tenants she said: ‘We still believe that the only socially responsible way to do this is to introduce means testing, but this has to be straightforward, fair and transparent.’


Councillor Wells called for a sustainable housing strategy underpinned by new funding mechanisms that would eradicate the ratepayers’ contribution, reduce the call on the government housing deficiency, encourage tenants to embrace their responsibility as residents and ‘create an environment where community spirit is at its core’.


In closing she said: ‘Only in this way will we have greater financial autonomy and be able to provide an improved service to our tenants.  And only in this way can we truly help to deliver for Douglas.’


The full Annual Review and Presentation of the 2018-2019 Budget, together the Housing Committee’s Annual Review, can be viewed from this page.