PROPOSALS to impose water charges on the people of Fermanagh and the North have been condemned by local MLAs.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone representatives, Jemma Dolan and Tom Elliott, have spoken out against plans by the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – Chris Heaton-Harris – threatening to bring charges in if an Executive at Stormont is not formed by the time of the 2023/24 budget.
Heaton-Harris laid out the warning and attacked the political parties of the North for not setting up a functional Executive.
He said: “If the executive has been restored in time for a budget for 2023/24, the UK Government will continue to work constructively with executive ministers, including on a sustainable budget that works for the people of Northern Ireland and supports economic growth.”
“My department will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Department of Finance ahead of the next financial year to identify what steps could be taken.”
“Amongst the options we will examine will be water charges and/or increasing income from regional rates, to ensure citizens in Northern Ireland, and all taxpayers are treated fairly and the 2023/24 budget is balanced from the outset of the year.”
Sinn Féin’s Jemma Dolan warned that water charges would already add a growing financial burden to people buckling under the weight of the cost of living crisis.
She said: “The British Secretary of State has today signalled his intention to introduce water charges and rise rates on people and businesses during an inflation crisis.
“This will only add to the cost of living and the cost of doing business.
“I stopped the imposition of water charges when I was Regional Development minister with the full support of Executive colleagues.
“It is essential that the Executive is restored so that local elected representatives can protect people from this Tory policy.”
Tom Elliott of the UUP stated that these charges would be making residents and businesses pay out again for water they’ve already paid for via their rates.
He added: “Many business customers are already paying direct water charges, domestic customers also pay water charges as part of their annual rates.
“There should be a proper assessment and report as to how much domestic customers are already paying through their rates base and that would demonstrate if there was any surplus or shortfall of revenue from the current water charges system before any decision to implement direct water charges to domestic customers and reduce their rates accordingly, as it would be unfair to pay twice for water charges.
“In a more strategic approach government should investigate the potential of NI Water moving to a mutual private enterprise that is owned by its customers.
“This would be a not for profit model that could benefit NI Water by allowing them to borrow capital against its asset base. This framework would permit NI Water to finance a multi-year investment plan and help re-structure the operation, thus helping offset any potential Water Charges the Secretary of State is insisting are needed.”
Deborah Erskine MLA meanwhile stated that Minister should stop making veiled threats and resolve the post-Brexit border issues affecting the North.
She said: “The Northern Ireland Secretary of State should focus on getting a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is harming our economy here. Veiled threats on public spending will not deal with the real issues at hand. Only when the NI Protocol is dealt with will there be a sustainable basis to form an Executive and legislate on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.”
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