17/10/2008

MoD Rates Controversy Escalates - Again

Just days after a Sinn Fein call to 'rethink' what had been described as a rates 'rebate' over Ministry of Defence (MoD) properties in the Limavady area, a Derry City Councillor has claimed the body has been 'ordered' to repay £76,000 to the MoD, after the defence agency successfully appealed its rates bill.

While she said that the money is substantial, being for two bases on the Limavady Road, and being backdated to 2003, the Department of Finance & Personnel (DF&P) has now denied that any such 'rebate' has been agreed, and that nothing has as yet been decided in respect of the MoD case.

The official comments come on foot of SDLP Councillor Helen Quigley describing alleged mistakes as "unacceptable".

Speaking on the BBC this morning she said: "Derry City Council, for the second time in as many weeks, will now have to make refunds through errors made by the Land and Property Services.

"I'm seriously concerned about this organisation - the manner in which they're operating.

"And certainly our Council has written to the Public Accounts Committee, the Auditor General and the Minister."

However, the DF&P spokeswoman said that outside of informal briefings, where possible amounts of money might have been referred to, solely by way of guidance, there were no firm decisions taken.
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She also said there was no question of anyone being 'ordered' to repay rates contributions, and suggested that, where necessary, any such amount would be adjusted by the rating agency in future dealings, but stressed that "nothing had been decided" despite the councillor's claim.

The latest controversy follows a statement made earlier in the week by Sinn Fein MLA for East Derry, Francie Brolly, who criticised the Minister, Nigel Dodds for his 'role' in the matter of MoD rating decisions.

In response, a Department of Finance & Personnel spokeswoman insisted yesterday there was no Ministerial role or involvement in this statutory process on rating "either in respect of the applications from the MoD or from any other ratepayer".

She was commenting on claims by the Sinn Fein MLA that a controversial Department of Finance decision "under DUP Minister Nigel Dodds" was made after he had "personally given the green light for a rebate amounting to around £1m to the MoD" as part of a rates arrangement on three Co Londonderry barrack sites.

Today's DF&P statement said: "All ratepayers have the right to challenge the rateable valuations of their properties.

"The District Valuer has a statutory responsibility to ensure that a rateable valuation is fair and reasonable and there are rights of appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation and the Lands Tribunal for Northern Ireland," also recording that in the "three years prior to 2006/07, Derry City Council received payments of almost £4m when the estimates were lower than the final calculation".

See: MoD Rates Rebate Claim Is Refuted

(BMcC)

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