£3m pensions deficit blamed on forcing rural charity out of business

The RDC has worked with and supported more than 7,000 rural projects across the north in the last 28 years
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE Rural Development Council (RDC), which provides a range of development, support and training services for individuals, farmers, farm families and rural communities, is to shut at the end of March because of a £3 million pensions deficit and the ongoing political stalemate in the north.

The Cookstown-based organisation, which was originally set up by the government in 1991, has worked with and supported more than 7,000 rural projects across the north.

But in a shock statement, its chairman Tony McCusker confirmed that the RDC was closing, meaning an uncertain future for its seven members of staff.

A creditors' meeting is due to be held at the offices of insolvency solicitors Napier & Sons in Belfast on March 28.

Mr McCusker said: "It is with utmost regret that RDC will close at the end of March. Pension deficit is the reason behind the closure, something which is completely beyond the control of our board."

He added: “A series of unfortunate circumstances including a substantial pension deficit, a continued annual hike in pension costs, the inflexibility of the NILGOSC pension scheme regulations and a lack of political stability have all played a part in the closure.

"We have witnessed a number of charities closing over recent years with increasing pension costs often the main contributor.

"For us it is extremely frustrating and disappointing that our local government pension scheme is not doing more to protect Northern Ireland charities in the way that other government schemes are across the UK."

He added: "Government seriously needs to find better solutions, other than insolvency, for organisations to exit the scheme, which are more beneficial to members and to the fund in the long term."

Over the last 28 years the organisation has been instrumental in supporting the development of rural areas right across the north, and has a sound track record in delivering programmes and in the administration of public funds.

Under the initial Review of Public Administration (2006-2009) the RDC underwent significant change which severed its ties with government paving the way for the organisation to continue as an independent company and, in more recent years, as a registered charity.

The organisation was part of the Local Government Pension Scheme for Northern Ireland administered by NILGOSC. At the time of change there was no reason to believe that future pension demands would threaten the solvency of the organisation.

Mr McCusker added: "We thank all those who we worked with over the years for their commitment and dedication to advancing rural Northern Ireland.”

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