The 11 local councils today joined together within the Northern Ireland Local Government Association to meet both NI Executive Junior Ministers to discuss economic recovery, the new Programme for Government and the precarious financial position of local councils.
While NILGA members used the virtual meeting to reaffirm their partnership approach, crucial in the current fight against the pandemic, they also expressed their genuine concerns for the sustainability of the local government sector.
Recognising that the funding to date from the Executive Departments has lessened some of the initial pressures, concerns remain that the majority of council revenue-generating facilities will be closed or at best partially reopened for months to come. This will lead to further reductions in income coupled with non-domestic and domestic rates deficits as the economic recovery will be slow.
Cllr Matt Garrett (Belfast City Council) NILGA President, commented:
“I welcome the valuable partnership message made by both Ministers Kearney and Lyons this morning. This is an exceptionally challenging time for everyone and every community across our region. The world is a very different place since we last formally engaged with the Ministers at the Local Government conference in February 2020.
“For NILGA, whose members are the hubs of our communities before, during and after Covid, the importance but fragility of our 11 local councils has been severely exposed, and the new Programme for Government must involve and resource councils more. That combination will be good for all parts of government and our businesses and communities too. Supporting our high streets to thrive again, emphasised by Ministers today, for example, is part of the investment in a long road to recovery.
“I believe all Ministers, MLAs, NILGA and councils will intensify their commitment in the crucial times ahead.”
Junior Ministers Gordon Lyons MLA and Declan Kearney MLA welcomed the joint engagement.
Junior Minister Lyons said: “Throughout the pandemic people have pulled together right across our community to mitigate the impacts. Local and central government, working together, have played a vital role in keeping our public services running and the Executive is committed to building on that collaborative approach.
“The Executive is determined to help breathe life back into the centre of our villages, towns and cities. It will work closely with local government and beyond, to help boost the sustainability of our high streets and help make them a safe, welcoming and thriving place for shoppers, visitors and businesses alike.
“It is such collaboration that will continue to sustain us as we move forward. A joined-up approach across sectors and government is key to improving wellbeing for all of our citizens as we emerge from this crisis, and will be the backbone of the Executive’s new strategic Programme for Government.”
Junior Minister Kearney also sought to reaffirm the Executive’s commitment to working with local government.
He said: “The Executive remains steadfast in its support of local government as we continue to work together to tackle this pandemic.
“The impacts of Covid and the urgency associated with the response measures that continue to be needed, whether health-based, economic or societal, have shown that significant capacity exists when the public sector acts decisively, thinks innovatively and collaborates with others in pursuit of shared goals.
“The collective leadership of central and local government, alongside grassroots community organisations and partners right across society has never been more important. Only by working together can we support the wider transformation needed to improve the wellbeing of all our citizens, tackle disadvantage and make public services sustainable into the future.”