Commenting after SOLACE gave evidence to the Assembly’s Communities Committee on the financial impact of Covid-19 on local councils
NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan said:
“The evidence presented by Chief Executives this morning, prepared in conjunction with NILGA, reiterates the perilous position that local government finds itself in, as we go into what will inevitably be an exceedingly difficult rate setting period.
“While we and SOLACE are extremely grateful for the support from the Assembly, including a new £40million funding package recently announced by the Finance Minister and the ongoing rates relief provided by the Executive, the evidence to Communities Committee members today outlines that future years need a complete re-modelling of how councils are financed.
“Members present recorded the value of council services, the need to preserve these to avoid stark community consequences, but these key frontline public services must be invested in urgently and a new funding model co-designed right now.
“Councils have been at the forefront of the relief efforts against Coronavirus and have diligently stepped up to support local communities, protect lives, and look after the most vulnerable in our society. However, this has come at a considerable cost with the loss of significant levels of income through leisure facilities, off-street parking, and other revenue streams which are crucial to the financial vitality of our local councils.
“The viability of the rates base in council areas is a serious concern going into 2021. The Executive has sensibly stepped in to pay the rates of many local businesses until the New Year, but councils will need certainty over the coming months. With four months until councils strike their rates for 2021/22, we will be working closely with the Executive to ensure that rates rises for citizens and local businesses are as minimal as possible. Regional Stormont rates and Council Local rates should be set at the same time – that’s common, good sense from a communications perspective for ratepayers.
“Local government will need sustained and committed financial backing from central government to weather the severe financial impact and drive the social, economic and environmental recovery of our local communities. Councils can be at the forefront of this rebuild, fostering entrepreneurship and economic recovery, but will need significant support from our partners in the Executive and the Assembly, aligned to what is happening in terms of co-design between Scottish and Welsh Government and councils in these regions.
“We must use collegiate working between Stormont and councils and more formal bodies like the NILGA – Department for Communities Partnership Panel to plan and deliver investment in local government for the community we jointly serve.”