Reform Agenda – Finance Minister Reviews How Rates Are Collected
FINANCE Minister Simon Hamilton MLA today announced that he has commissioned a review of rate collection and the recovery processes to improve how we deliver this vital public service.
As part of the Minister’s reform agenda, the Department is carrying out a strategic assessment of rate collection and recovery with the assistance of external advice and expertise from Ernst & Young, who have experience in engaging with leading collection agencies in the public and private sector. This will be a short, focussed review which will be completed by the end of the year.
Simon Hamilton said: “I am keen that the Department of Finance and Personnel as part of the strategic centre of the Stormont administration should seek to play the fullest of roles as an enabler and catalyst for reform and innovation across the entirety of the public sector. But I have also made it clear that I can’t preach public sector reform for everyone else without practising it in my own Department.
“Rates are an extremely important source of revenue for the Northern Ireland Executive. Land & Property Services (LPS) was responsible for collecting over £1.1billion in revenue last year. This revenue helps fund vital public services, such as health, education, housing, roads and emergency services. It also provides a significant stream of income to all district councils in Northern Ireland.”
The Minister added: “The last few years have been an extremely challenging period for individuals and businesses alike. We became well used to bad news about shop closures and the impact that the economic downturn had and is continuing to have on local traders in our towns and cities. I see it in my own constituency and I see it in other constituencies I have visited in my capacity as Finance Minister.
“It is not simply the economic downturn that is causing such difficulties. The retail industry is undergoing a fundamental shift in the way people shop for goods and services. Online stores and big retail outlets are taking an increasing share of consumer spending.
“Whilst there are many encouraging signs that the economy is entering recovery – falling unemployment, rising employment, increasing business activity and an improving housing market – times remain tough for many individuals as well.”
Referring to the review exercise the Minister added: “The way we collect and recover rates is an area where we are looking to be innovative, to improve how we engage with the public and to improve how we deliver our services.
“The main objective of this review is to establish the effectiveness of current rate collection and recovery processes by delivering a set of prioritised opportunities for improvement. It is particularly important that LPS prepares for the challenges which we know lie ahead including RPA, the non-domestic rates revaluation and the replacement of the existing rates rebate scheme.
“Such an economic backdrop makes the job of collecting rates an increasingly challenging one. More ratepayers struggling to pay, increases the administrative burden of collecting rates. LPS has seen increasing numbers of bankruptcy and liquidations which leads to debt being written-off. More people seeking arrangements to pay, or seeking to pay by instalment increases the collection timeline.”
The Minister said: “I want to benchmark what LPS does against the best in Britain because I want LPS to become the best. A reformed public sector providing its people with first rate public services needs a cutting edge rates collection agency. This review and its outcomes can assist us in achieving that aim of an innovative and reform orientated public sector as well as underpinning our efforts to deliver world class public services to the people of Northern Ireland.”