The rate levy for the Borough of Douglas has been set at 408p for the 2017-2018 financial year.
The rate represents a 1.49 per cent increase over the previous year.
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 25, 2017 when he presented his Annual Review and Presentation of the Budget, a budget he said was ‘one of consolidation’ that would ‘deliver for Douglas’.
Councillor Christian went on to say that the new rate levy had been set against a backdrop of the latest Manx RPI inflation figure of 6.4 per cent for December 2016 and achieved through ‘the hard work of Members and officers examining their budgets in forensic detail’.
Ahead of Councillor Christian’s annual review the Chair of Housing, Councillor Claire Wells, moved the Housing Budget for the 2017-2018 financial year.
In doing so Councillor Wells took the opportunity to outline some of the Housing Committee’s challenges and achievements in delivering ‘an affordable and equitable public housing service.’
The Council was progressing its £9.8 million capital programme for 2017-2018 with the external refurbishment of Willaston, the island’s largest public housing development of 728 properties. The £34 million scheme would not only improve the properties’ weather resistance, thermal efficiency and see the kitchens updated, but would also substantially extend the life of the houses.
The capital programme also included external refurbishment of Spring Valley and the re-roofing of Lord Street flats. In addition, the construction of a sheltered housing complex in Willaston was expected to start by the end of the year.
Councillor Wells reported that void property numbers were going down and that as of Wednesday January 25 there were 45 void properties, down from a peak of 138 in 2016.
Importantly, despite pressures on its budget, the Committee had reduced the housing service’s rate-born contribution to £302,220 for the 2017-2018 financial year, down from a peak of £873,000 in the 2007-2008 budget.
Turning to challenges the service faced, Councillor Wells said that with a two per cent rent increase agreed and no review of current allowances, the Council was left with a funding shortfall between rental income received and the real cost of providing public housing. She closed by issuing a call to the government for new funding mechanisms that would eradicate the ratepayers’ contribution and reduce the call on the government housing deficiency. ‘Only in this way will we have greater financial autonomy and be able to provide an improved service to our tenants,’ she said.
After thanking Councillor Wells for her ‘insightful report’ and ahead of setting out his annual review Councillor Christian referred to the US and UK changes in administration, economic and political uncertainty at home and abroad, and the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, a process, he said, ‘that compounds the uncertainty for us in the Isle of Man’.
Expanding on the Brexit theme he said: ‘While Britain has voted to leave the European Union it is not leaving Europe. It’s seeking to take back control.’
Outcomes from Brexit would challenge local and central government to scale up their response to an uncertain future but would present new opportunities for which the Council would have to be ‘match fit’ to seize.
Turning to his annual review Councillor Christian issued a note of caution about interest rates. ‘The Council’s finances are sensitive to interest rate rises. The “Brexit effect” could lead to the Council being exposed to more expensive borrowing, which could compromise its future investment plans.’
The Council was, however, still investing in the town, he said. Along with its continuing capital programme to upgrade its housing stock as outlined by Councillor Wells, the Council was advancing a five-year £1.5 million scheme to convert the borough’s street lighting to LED lanterns. By April 2018 11,000 lanterns will be replaced and linked in time to a central management smart system so they can be remotely controlled.
Once the programme was completed the new energy-efficient units were expected to make savings of around £230,000 a year, while for the 2017-2018 financial year, budgeted savings of £32,500 were anticipated. Separately, installing LED lighting in Shaw’s Brow car park was already producing savings of £4,000 a year in electricity charges.
Investment was also planned for Noble’s Park: a £175,000 water play area to be funded from capital receipts to avoid any direct impact on the rates.
Councillor Christian went on to say that while good governance and sustainable investment required additional spending of £572,000, total savings of £511,000 had been built into the budget to avoid imposing a burden on the rate.
More shoppers were visiting Douglas, attracted by a combination of the Council’s new charging structure for Chester Street car park, along with community events, street entertainment and craft fairs organised by Douglas Town Centre Management. ‘The retail landscape is changing,’ said Councillor Christian. ‘Bricks and mortar retailers are facing serious challenges to capture a market where the tablet and PC are replacing the high street as consumers’ preferred way to shop. So, as the retail experience changes, town centres have to adapt.’
Turning to the government’s refurbishment proposals for Douglas promenade Councillor Christian said he welcomed the Department of Infrastructure’s latest plans and that the Council intended to be ‘a leading player’ in the project, investing in an £820,000 bespoke LED street lighting scheme to run the length of the promenade. ‘This is about civic pride and projecting a positive image for the capital of our Island,’ he said.
The Council was becoming ‘leaner’. With effect from 2020 the number of elected members would reduce from 18 to 12. The Council had also determined to reduce the number of Wards from six to four in line with the House of Keys’ constituencies and, by April 2017, the Council would have reduced its workforce by the equivalent of 28 full-time -posts in the last six years. Councillor Christian added that as Douglas was the Island’s largest local authority, managing a budget of £40 million, the Council would always require a substantial workforce.
In closing Councillor Christian referred to the launch of the Council’s third Corporate Plan, a ‘declaration of intent’ that would set out the local authority’s priorities, objectives, responsibilities and aspirations for the next four years. He said: ‘The Corporate Plan will provide direction and help us to work towards creating and maintaining an aspirational, dynamic Douglas…and brighter prospects for our town, our future.’
The full Annual Review and Presentation of the 2017-2018 Budget, together the Housing Committee’s Annual Review can be viewed at douglas.gov.im.
The full review and presentation of the budget can be viewed here.
In addition, the annual review from the housing committee can be viewed here.