The Rural Development Council (RDC) is to close, citing pension costs, the lack of a Stormont minister, and intransigent local rules for its insolvency.
In a statement on the RDC website a spokesperson said: "It is with upmost regret that RDC will close at the end of March 2019. Pension deficit is the reason behind the closure, something which is completely beyond the control of the Board. The organisation is part of the Local Government Pension Scheme in Northern Ireland administered by NILGOSC.
Established by government in 1991 the organisation was instrumental in supporting the development of rural areas right across Northern Ireland with a sound track record in delivering programmes and in the administration of public funds.
Under the initial Review of Public Administration (2006-2009) the organisation 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. At the time of change there was no reason to believe that future pension demands would threaten the solvency of the organisation.
Speaking on behalf of the Board, Tony McCusker, Chair said, “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. 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."
NILGOSC, who operate the RDC's pension scheme, said it cannot comment on the financial management of a scheme employer, adding that in the circumstance where a scheme employer ceases to function, the pensions of members are secured and suffer no detriment.