Reacting to evidence submitted by NILGA to today’s Stormont Finance Committee detailing the financial fragility and the potential of councils to drive the post-Covid social and economic recovery, NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan, said:
“Like so many, the impact of Covid-19 on our 11 local councils has been severe, but with massive cutbacks in our sector, the public service and community impacts will be worse. Councils are simply unsustainable due to the huge income losses sustained now and forecast for years. The local government sector is operating in an environment which is so dangerous it is preventing some key facilities and services from reopening, one which will also curtail vital partnerships with the rest of government in the long term - just when society needs these most. Despite recent welcome funding injections of nearly £25m from the Department for Communities and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the present system is not sustainable.
“It is heartening that council colleagues in England can now plan essential services over the next 12 months due to their Local Government Minister stating that there will be “a comprehensive plan to ensure financial sustainability of councils this financial year”. The whole of NI will similarly benefit if a parallel move is made here.
Investing properly in our councils, strengthening them as local drivers of essential services and entrepreneurship, will lead to better, faster, social and economic recovery. With proper backing, our 11 councils can lead the rebuilding effort, revitalise our economy, and mitigate against the worst effects of a post coronavirus recession. Understanding that this is an essential building block to a modern democracy simply has to register with the rest of government and not before it is too late.
“NILGA seeks to fully participate in an urgent remodelling of the public purse here, so that it is locality and community, not institutionally, driven. If councils are treated as an equal partner in NI, we will emerge a much better place. The demands on key council services are totally disproportionate to the resources they receive. The Executive has worked hard to insulate local government from the immediate impact of Covid-19 but, from a long-term perspective, a recalibrated system of government is required to deliver for local communities across Northern Ireland. We cannot lag behind nor ignore the model of investment and co-design so obvious across our neighbouring territories.”