Following the first online Council meeting Cllr Richard Holmes has said that “Councillors are facing many months of tough decision making” as they set about dealing with the worst economic landscape in perhaps two centuries.
With the economy in free-fall and local businesses and councils being subjected to less favourable terms than their English counterparts, the outlook is bleak. On Friday 15th May the Belfast Telegraph reported CCGBC’s Chief Executive and chair of Solace NI, David Jackson, saying “at least two councils” are facing insolvency within the next three months.
“The stark words of David Jackson should be a warning to all Councillors and the Stormont Executive alike” Cllr Holmes said. “Tough decisions to furlough workers have had to be taken by the local council and if Causeway, like other councils, are not prepared to make these difficult decisions, then local government will collapse.”
“It is disappointing though not surprising that the Sinn Fein group leader chose to make political capital from the decision to furlough workers on 80% pay. Their call in of the decision will cost ratepayers greatly. Whilst furloughing staff is the last thing council wants to do, it is preferable to layoffs and redundancies. If the experience of the private sector is anything to go by then it is difficult expecting non furloughed workers to be slaving away for the same salary as those furloughed and at home.
“At this difficult time council needs to stretch out every pound it has. This means there is a fine balancing act between the need to ensure our events-based tourism industry does not collapse entirely for future years and short-term cash flow.
“The loss of millions of pounds of income to council from car parking, lettings, planning fees, leisure centres and community centres amongst other sources is devastating. Whilst rates income will continue this year, the overwhelming impact that will be felt by businesses will undoubtedly lead to a significant loss of income in future years. It is difficult now to envisage what our high streets will resemble with a substantial move to online shopping amidst a social distancing world.
“If ever there was a time for political Parties to work together it is now. But sadly, those snipping from the side-lines are much more content to splash the cash we don’t have whilst offering nothing in return.
“Given the scale of the economic impact councils are facing, the Stormont Executive need to be providing financial support. Councils can’t run on a cocktail of platitudes and soundbites from Sinn Fein Ministers in Finance and Communities. The latest offer of £20m spread across 11 councils is probably less than half what councils need and shows little thought for long term decision making to ensure the survival of local government.
“The Sinn Fein recipe of continued lock down and political maneuvering will do little to resurrect an economy devastated by the deadly hidden danger that is Coronavirus.”