Page last updated at 19:34 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Councils plunge into 400m debt

map of NI councils
Only Magherafelt Council was free of debt

Northern Ireland's councils have debts totalling almost 400m, Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has revealed.

Ballymena, with debts of more than 30m, tops the league.

News of the debt levels came as the Northern Ireland Local Government Association raised concerns about falling revenue and cuts to services.

Belfast, the largest council, owed 20m while Magherafelt was the only one of Northern Ireland's 26 councils to remain debt-free.

Newtownabbey had debts of 28m and Coleraine owed 27m, while Derry City Council owed 21m.

Even before the debt levels were confirmed, Councillor Helen Quigley, president of NILGA, warned that council services may have to be cut due to falling revenue.

WHAT THE COUNCILS OWE
Antrim 23m
Ards 15m
Armagh 21m
Ballymena 30M
Ballymoney 9.5m
Banbridge 13m
Belfast 20m
Carrickfergus 13m
Castlereagh 17m
Coleraine 27m
Cookstown 1m
Craigavon 8m
Derry 21m
Down 15m
Dungannon 2m
Fermanagh 2m
Larne 6m
Limavady 8m
Lisburn 21m
Magherafelt 0
Moyle 8m
Newry and Mourne 21m
Newtownabbey 28m
North Down 24m
Omagh 10m
Strabane 2m
Total 367m
Source Department of the Environment

She urged Finance Minister Nigel Dodds to take urgent action.

'Financial challenges'

A statement from the minister's office said he "was aware of the main issues facing councils" as a number of them have raised their concerns with him.

"Councils, like many individuals and organisations, are facing increased financial challenges in the current economic environment," the statement said.

"Measures introduced by the executive, such as the freeze on the regional rate element of domestic rates bills until 2011, will help individuals better deal with the challenges they face.

"Indeed, the average bill faced by local households will be around 1,000 lower over the three years to 2011 than they would have been under direct rule."

The statement added that the minister was "keen to listen to the concerns of local government and will be carefully considering the letter he received from NILGA".

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