Today (11th September 2020), council elected members from all NI’s councils heard first-hand from Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, on the Executive’s overall Covid-19 recovery plans in budget terms together with future support for local government.
NILGA members reaffirmed their partnership approach but also expressed their concerns for the sustainability of the local government sector. Recognising the welcome funding to date from the Executive, which alleviated some of the immediate council funding pressures, councils continue to incur income losses due to the closure of revenue-generating facilities and forecast significant income reductions due to the impact on rate returns. Recognising these challenges, members were encouraged by the Minister’s collaborative approach to working together to mitigate the community impact of a substantial reduction in council led services, together with local socio-economic, health and wellbeing deficits.
Members also highlighted the need for public sector finances to be transformed across the region, with part of that transformation looking at how our councils are funded and support more fully the emerging Programme for Government, in order make our economy and public services much more sustainable.
Cllr Matt Garrett (Belfast City Council) NILGA President, commented:
“I welcome the Finance Minister’s input and commitments for and with local government today. This is an exceptionally challenging time for everyone and every penny counts. For councils, the hubs of our communities before and during Covid, the importance but fragility of our 11 local councils is exposed, needs addressing and the only way to do this is via political and practical shared work.
“While we welcome the support to date from Ministers and Departments, we must move here to strong and clear fiscal reassurances - as afforded in neighbouring regions. This is a long road and I believe all Ministers, MLAs, NILGA and councils will redouble their commitment in the crucial times ahead.
Finance Minister, Conor Murphy welcomed the joint engagement:
“Councils have played a critical role in supporting communities during the covid pandemic. At the same time they have also lost significant income. To help with this the Executive has provided Councils with £20m of direct support as well as funding for waste management. The Executive has also borne the full £313m cost of the rates holiday, so it will not impact on councils’ rate income this year. It was useful to discuss with NILGA the future funding needs of Councils and I will take this into account when recommending to the Executive further support for Councils.