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Alliance opposes proposed rates increase to fund Community Diversionary Festival Programme

The Alliance Party has opposed a £500,000 increase to next year's Belfast rates, designed to enhance the Area Based Festivals Fund which includes providing diversionary activities for bonfires.

The decision follows the Alliance Party's refusal to support an initial scheme in 2018, which saw the DUP and Sinn Féin carve up £400,000 for individual projects, a fund which saw Alliance ask the NI Audit Office (NIAO) to investigate - an investigation which is still on-going.

At today's committee meeting, Alliance sought to remove this additional fund from the rates increase, proposing a rise of 1.67 percent, rather than the 1.98 percent backed by Sinn Féin and the DUP, but lost the vote 13 to 3.

Councillor Michael Long - Belfast Alliance Group Leader - said: "Alliance can see no sense in this proposal. At a time of continued austerity and with the difficult recent months for traders in the city centre, Alliance is keen to ensure that ratepayers and businesses face as low a rates increase as possible, especially as the Council already spends close to £500,000 on bonfires aside from the additional money this fund would provide.

"Given the huge concerns that we have had with the original fund and the fact that it seemed to deliver very little, especially in East Belfast, where most of the problems were experienced, we are not prepared to see more money spent until we have detailed feedback from the NIAO on how happy they are with the scheme.

"At this time, I think most ratepayers will be astonished that the DUP and SF have opted to prioritise this matter rather than provide additional service for ratepayers, promotion of the Belfast Agenda or support for those in need, particularly given the impact of welfare reform and the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged.

"We hope that both parties will reconsider this proposal and either reduce rates for residents and businesses or consider putting additional money to where it can make a real difference to those who are in need."