By November of 2021, it had been clearly established that action by Council on Climate Change reduced costs, broadened the rates base and gave Council new revenue streams, All-round good news for the ratepayer as you have seen in the last post.
Cross-party consensus was archived that, whatever ones position on Climate Change, Councillors had a fiduciary duty to find best value for the ratepayer. We needed to start setting targets for management that were numeric and could be easily translated in to KPI’s (key performance indicators). I put forward a motion that was seconded by DUP’s Glynn Hanna and strongly supported by Sinn Féin’s Oonagh Hanlon who was chairperson of the Council Finance Committee (called ‘SP&R’ committee).
‘Making Council Finances Fit to Tackle Climate Change’ – Cllr Cadogan Enright October 2021
Council notes the supporting table below is based on a Freedom of Information reply from the Department of Finance, supplemented by FoI’s from each of the 11 Councils. Council notes that or District is running in a poor last place in terms of revenue despite having the best potential renewable resources in the North of Ireland outside Donegal. Were it not for the £100,000+pa benefit of our old abandoned energy efficiency campaign, Newry Mourne and Down District Council’s position would be worse.
Council formally adopts revenue targets from renewables as follows;
2022 – £1 million per annum
2025 – £5 million per annum
2030 – £10 million per annum
Council directs management that these targets can be met by rates from renewables projects, income from Council’s own renewables projects and from a revitalised energy savings programme.
Management requested that we describe these targets as ‘indicative targets’ so they would not be bound to deliver saving in the rates year from April 2022, But management undertook to come forward with proposals by April 2022 to the Strategic Finance Committee (chaired by Cllr Oonagh Hanlon) on how these targets might be achieved. With the benefit of hindsight, this act of goodwill may have been a mistake.
Why a second motion became necessary.
Councillor Oonagh Hanlon was a remarkably good chair for the Finance (SP&R) committee. Keeping her eye on the ball. Oonagh and I raised the need for proposals from Council management based on the above motion on several occasions during the 2022/2023 financial year. But after 12 months it was obvious that nothing was happening, so Oonagh suggested I put a new motion that she, as chair of Finance could use to gee up management on the issue. As follows;
Broadening Rates Base, Increasing Direct Income and Reducing Costs – Proposed Councillor Enright – seconded Cllr Hanlon December 2022
“Council notes that a Notice of Motion was passed by Council last year, requiring Management to report back to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee by April 2022 on delivery dates and detailed plans for Council to glean the benefits of the ‘Green Electrified Economy’.
The purpose of the motion was to help tackle our budget shortfall. So far, no plans have been presented to meet these targets. The detail of the original motion is;
“Council formally adopts indicative revenue targets from renewables as follows; 2022 – £1 million per annum, 2025 – £5 million per annum, 2030 – £10 million per annum. Council directs that these targets can be met by rates from renewables projects, income from councils own renewables and from a revitalised energy savings programme.”
Council thus resolves that Council Management are required to create an inter-departmental team to report by 31st January 2023 with detailed plans to fulfil these indicative targets so they can be included in the rates estimate looking forward. Council notes that this motion is primarily aimed at improving Council’s financial position, but it will also have the effect of delivering on Councils “Climate Change Emergency” policy as well.”
By the deadline of January 2023, both Oonagh and I and our respective parties were well into the May 2023 local election campaign. The ‘Purdah’ rules effectively prohibit pressure by political parties on public servants during elections . Fortunately we were both easily re-elected, myself as part of our Council’s biggest-ever Alliance team and Oonagh’s party gaining a record 20 seats, 1 seat short of a majority on Council.
So since the first motion above, Council has now passed 2 years of rates increases based on budgets that did not include a plan for savings based on the above motions. No plan has yet been received from management.
Oonagh is still Chair of the of the Strategic Finance Committee and is now party leader for Sinn Féin on Newry Mourne and Down Council.
This morning I met with Oonagh at her Irish Street office in Downpatrick and we both undertook to pursue this matter with management as part of the rates setting process looking out to 2025 and 2030.