Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:00 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 1:00 pm, 2nd March 2015

I beg to move

That the Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 be affirmed.

This scheme was initially introduced in 2007 with the objective of encouraging and sustaining the provision of ATMs in rural areas. It was originally introduced in 2007 for a fixed period of three years, but it has been extended twice, following evaluation. The latest order provides for a further one-year extension for the 2015-16 Budget period until the end of March 2016.

It is not a big policy. It currently provides rates exemption to around 70 ATMs that would otherwise be liable for a separate rates bill of around £2,000 a year, but it is still an important policy for our rural communities. The number of ATMs that get the exemption has increased from 37 to 70 since the scheme was introduced. Perhaps, most importantly, the context has changed. It has done so in such a way that, I believe, this modest measure is even more important today than it was before, because of the closure of many rural bank branches.

If I may, I will outline what the scheme does. The exemption is provided for stand-alone ATMs that are individually valued in the valuation list, such as those located outside petrol stations or on high streets. It does not apply to those located in banks or building societies, which tend to be valued as part of that property.

The current cost of the scheme is around £130,000 in terms of revenue forgone. I consider that to be an affordable sum, given the benefits that it can bring. ATMs play an important role in the sustainability of rural economies. Evidence assessed by my Department demonstrated that money withdrawn locally is spent locally. Of every £10 withdrawn from a cash machine, almost two thirds is spent locally.

I turn now to the statutory rule itself. My Executive colleagues and members of the Finance and Personnel Committee have already been advised on its detail. The Committee indicated that it was content for individual, separately valued ATMs in designated rural areas to continue to be exempt from rates, particularly given the modest cost of the scheme.

Article 1 of the order sets out the citation, commencement and interpretation provisions, and article 2 provides for the extension of the relevant date, before which the scheme must end, to 1 April 2016.

In conclusion, I look forward to Members' comment and commend the Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 to the House.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. The purpose of this rule is to extend the current rates exemption for any ATM that is assessed separately for rating purposes in a designated rural area from 31 March 2015 to 1 April 2016. ATMs that are located in banks or building societies tend to be valued as part of the property and are therefore not affected.

The exemption initially came into effect in 2007, and policy evaluations carried out in 2009 and 2012 showed increases in the number of rural ATMs. The Committee noted that, at present, Land and Property Services (LPS) has estimated that around 60 ATMs are covered by the scheme. The Department has estimated that the cost of the scheme in 2014-15 is just over £130,000, with an estimated cost of around £2,200 per ATM.

At its meeting on 14 January, the Committee considered the proposal to make the order. During that consideration, several points were raised about which designation of rural areas was being used for the scheme, who exactly assessed which of the machines was stand-alone or part of a building and who exactly would receive the exemption. The Committee was advised that NISRA provided the designation of rural areas, that the professional valuation officers from LPS assessed each ATM and decided whether it fell into the scheme's remit, and that the exemption would go to the individuals or group responsible for the stand-alone ATM.

On a minor technical point that I noted subsequent to the Committee receiving its briefing, perhaps the Minister could clarify why the rule provides for an extension to 1 April 2016, rather than 31 March, as has been the case in previous years.

The Committee was nonetheless satisfied with the Department’s answers to its queries and had no objection to the policy proposals at that time. The formal statutory rule was subsequently considered at the Committee’s meeting on 18 February 2015, together with the accompanying report from the Assembly’s Examiner of Statutory Rules. The Examiner raised no issues by way of technical scrutiny.

The Committee agreed to recommend that the Assembly affirm statutory rule 46/2015, the Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas) Order (NI) 2015.

As a rural MLA, I also support the motion on a party basis. I recall, as a councillor and an MLA, lobbying for many years to get ATMs in villages. I am sure that every rural MLA has done the same. This is a very worthwhile proposal. It is worth continuing, as it provides a great service to young and old alike in our countryside villages and towns.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I again thank the Committee Chair for his comments. He raised a couple of issues, one of which I think he already received clarification from officials on, concerning what was designated rural. He is right that it was NISRA that helped to define the designated rural wards where ATMs would benefit from this exemption. When the legislation was first passed in 2007, over 200 wards were prescribed as rural. My Department will be redesignating the wards at the earliest opportunity once, stemming from the ongoing council restructuring, the settlement information is available from NISRA.

He asked about 1 April 2016. There seems to be no particular reason why that, as opposed to 31 March, is there. Perhaps it was thought that a wee change was required to see whether anybody noticed. Far be it from me to pre-empt what the House might do in future, but, as the Member highlighted, this is a good scheme. I do not foresee it disappearing any time soon, particularly at a time when bank branches everywhere are closing, especially in rural areas. I see that Mr McCarthy, Mr Nesbitt and Miss McIlveen are in the House. They and I represent the Strangford constituency, and we know how important this is in places like Portaferry, for example, where we can recall the last remaining bank branch closing. This scheme has helped to retain a stand-alone ATM that belongs to that bank in the village. The proposal is helpful in retaining that important service that I think most of the House appreciates. Even if you do not represent a rural area, you will appreciate the importance of having ATMs and that service in the local area.

By extending the scheme, we can help to ensure that ATMs are retained and perhaps even increased in rural wards, providing greater access and support to those communities.

I ask Members to support the measure, and I commend the order to the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That the Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 be affirmed.