Antrim and Newtownabbey’s coronavirus pandemic recovery plan ‘ahead of the game’

Antrim and Newtownabbey’s Covid recovery plan was “ahead of the game”, Alliance Councillor Billy Webb told a meeting of the council’s Audit Committee on Tuesday evening.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 1:05 pm
Mossley Mill. Pic courtesy Google

Cllr Webb MBE acknowledged that “some tough decisions had to be made” but he said he believes that the council “took the right approach”.

The council has proposed 68 redundancies in a bid to make financial savings of £3.3m following a deficit in finances as a result of service closures during the pandemic.

The local authority is anticipating a drop in business rates of 35 per cent and a loss of £0.5m in domestic rates. Earned income is expected to reduce by £8m in this financial year.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council estimated it would earn £52m through rates income.

Speaking at the meeting, Sandra Cole, director of Finance and Governance,  told members the council “remains in the response phase for some areas and recovery area for others”.

“We all want to return to a more normal way of working,” she told members.

The financial director explained the council was able to instigate an emergency plan in March drawing on a flu plan already in place and designating Mossley Mill as an incident control centre. Read here

However, she acknowledged: “No plan could have prepared us for the scale and nature of changes after that date.”

She told committee members the council has taken a “pro-active approach” in terms of the pandemic, putting in place emergency powers to deal with it, which she said, were “critical to enable council to respond quickly”.

She indicated that decisions had to be made “at a very fast pace in response to the crisis”.

“The council were pro-active  identifying very early on the impact on income and the loss of the majority of income generating facilities and put in place emergency financial planning.”

Following a recent debriefing workshop with the senior management team, she reported an action plan has been produced so the local authority is “better prepared for a second wave”.

The financial director also pointed out the council is following a recovery plan which the Northern Ireland Executive has put in place and decisions will continue to be based on the plan.

“Good financial management remains a priority for this council in terms of an emergency financial recovery plan.”

She noted more than £1m of economic initiatives were approved at the August meeting of the borough council which will include town centre regeneration and the advancement of the Glengormley Public Realm Scheme.

She also said the government’s furlough scheme has been of “significant benefit” to council.

She suggested  it now may need to be able to deal with threats from a potential second wave of Covid, new strain of Swine flu, seasonal flu, flooding and Brexit as well as a potential cyber threat.

Commenting on the possibility of a cyber threat, she said: “We are mindful of these and have controls in place to reduce those risks.”

Mindful of the community’s mental health, she indicated the council has an emphasis on trying to keep parks and open spaces available.

“We want to return back to normal and get normal service back. We may have to deal with a number of challenges at the same time.”

Cllr Webb commented: “Of all 11 councils, we were ahead of the game in planning for the financial fall out.

“It has not been an easy time for staff or members. Some tough decisions had to be made.  Some members chose to make political gain from it but in time, we will see we took the right approach.”

The Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ulster Unionist Cllr Jim Montgomery, said he was “disappointed” that some had been “trying to score political points”.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.

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