On 15 December in answer to questions on the Budget statement, I indicated that we plan to have a comprehensive review of the rating system. This could include a re-examination of the types and scope of the rate reliefs currently available. I have no specific plans at this time to derate the institutions referred to in the question.
Will the Minister acknowledge that many of the local halls are the only halls that are available to communities? They are used for community activities such as playgroups, and to rate these on the same commercial basis as shops is extremely unfair to the small numbers of people who are trying to keep them open?
I am aware of the difficulties to which the Member refers, but it is important to remember that the regional rate does make a significant contribution to public expenditure and that any derating would involve a loss of revenue. However, halls can gain a measure of relief when they are used part-time by the wider community. Some Orange and Hibernian halls double up as temporary community or village halls and do gain rate relief proportionate to the amount of time during which they are used in this way.
I am not quite sure how to take that. If the Member wishes to give me more information, I will consider it fully in the context of any review of the rating system to make sure that it is fair and effective and reflects the needs and values of the properties we are talking about.
As I have said, under the current system some halls gain a measure of relief that is proportionate when they are used part of the time by the wider community. If, given representations made to us, we formulated a general policy for derating, that would have revenue consequences for us.