Sunday, June 16, 2024
GeneralHOPES FOR FURTHER FINANCIAL SUPPORT

HOPES FOR FURTHER FINANCIAL SUPPORT

THE council’s chief executive has said she is hopeful the second phase of financial support for those affected by the recent flooding will be confirmed soon.

Marie Ward was speaking at Monday’s monthly local authority meeting, at which concerns about the initial £15m package announced by secretary of state Chris Heaton- Harris – this allowed for individual £7,500 payments – were raised.

Declan McAteer (SDLP, Crotlieve) said that it was his understanding that there was still £13m of the monies left, adding that businesses that weren’t insured had been “left hanging out to dry”.

In response, Mrs Ward highlighted that “council has been administering the funding on behalf of central government”.

“The second phase is due to hopefully be announced soon,” she said.

“It is being worked on with the relevant government departments, and it is being discussed by the relevant government departments with the UK Treasury, because it requires UK Treasury approval.

“As soon as I have an update on that, I will bring that to elected members.

“I have been pushing very hard, and I am very keen that we get that announced as soon as possible, but we just have to go through the various different rigours that we have to go through.”

Gareth Sharvin (SDLP, Downpatrick) stated

that it was “good to hear that the chief executive is continuing to push for Phase 2”, and that businesses that are struggling will be appreciative of any clarity on any future funding.

“It is being bandied about that council has put in bureaucratic criteria that has limited the monies that are being currently released,” he added.

Mrs Ward explained that, due to the extent of flooding in this district, she has been involved in various subgroups along with various different departments of central government.

“For the original package, we had to lobby very hard to the Northern Ireland Office, and there was an announcement by the secretary of state,” she continued.

“That money albeit – and I will even say it – is a recirculation of Northern Ireland money.

“We would have preferred new money, and I think it is important to say that fact as well. “But that money then requires approval

through the UK Treasury.
“The first package was developed up jointly with

ourselves, but the criteria then needs to meet certain levels to meet the UK Treasury requirements.

“Council are administering the funding on behalf of central government, and the reason that we said we would take the role of administering it was to try to get it out to the various people within our district.”

The chief executive added that the second package is now “being considered and discussed between the various
relevant government departments and UK Treasury”, and that they are now waiting to see when it will “actually be announced”.

“That will be administered again by the local councils, and we are just looking at how the process of that will be done, because it will be slightly different than the process that we had to do for the £7,500,” she said.

“We are keen to try and get that moving as quickly as possible, but we are subject to the rigours of UK Treasury.”

Oonagh Hanlon (Sinn Féin, Downpatrick) welcomed the forthcoming progress to Phase 2, though voiced concerns that insured businesses have been “locked out of the scheme”, meaning that they didn’t get the immediate relief of the £7,500 support.

She also highlighted that it is being circulated on social media “that council are really the bureaucrats here”.

Mrs Ward stressed the importance of awareness that the scheme is “being administered by council”, which “will be subject to audit on this”.

“We are already doing our own internal audit process to try and ensure that we have the scheme right,” she said.

“We will also be subject to audit by the Department for the Economy, and we will be further subject to audit by the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

“So, those things are absolutely critical in the understanding and delivery of any scheme, and ensuring that we try to meet the requirements of the scheme as set out when actually applying and sending the financial support to businesses.

“I think that is really important for members to remember that fact.

“We are administering it and we will be subject to audit, and it will have to go back to our Audit Committee.

“So, it is not just a matter of us giving out money.

“We have to follow the rigours of what the scheme sets out.”

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