£68k surplus to go to Derry hardship fund

Derry City and Strabane council will place a surplus £68k received in support from Central Government into the council’s hardship fund.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 13th June 2022, 11:35 am

The proposal was brought forward by Sinn Féin Councillor Conor Heaney on behalf of his party colleague. Councillor Christopher Jackson in a bid to ‘bolster the hardship fund’ and increase the support council can offer to those in need.

Members of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee received the Year end financial outturn 2021/22 report from Lead Finance Officer Alfie Dallas who explained to elected members that ‘having strong reserves is critical’.

Mr Dallas said: “Finances for this financial year have obviously been very significantly impacted by COVID with numerous services not operating or operating at minimal/significantly reduced levels and staff either on furlough or working from home.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Conor Heaney.

He said that key financial pressures facing council were the loss of income from services and facilities (primarily leisure, planning, building control, commercial refuse, museums and culture facilities and off street car parking); exceptional expenditure eg health and safety costs, costs associated with new working arrangements, cemetery costs, communications, IT costs to enable home working and costs associated with re-opening facilities. He added: “Thankfully the significant financial risks associated with the pandemic have been fully mitigated for 2021/22 by the significant Central Government support received resulting in an overall surplus £68k.”

He then advised members that the ‘positive position is likely to be short term’ and that council ‘were moving towards a very challenging 2023/24 rates process’.

Stating that it was ‘positive’ to report the significant financial risks have been mitigated up to this point, Mr Dallas suggested that the £68k surplus was transferred to the council’s district fund.

Referring to the ‘positive position’, Sinn Féin Councillor Jackson stated: “If it wasn’t for the substantial support we have received, particularly from the Department for Communities, we would be in a completely different situation. There’s a clear logic for using this additional £68k to go into the reserves and I suppose in many ways that could be seen as being prudent but we have to face up to the reality that there are a lot of people out there that are really struggling with the rising utility bills, with the rising cost of living and there is the hardship fund which has been established by council to try and provide whatever support we can and as a party we see this as an opportunity to bolster that hardship fund and hopefully increase the amount of support we can provide those who are in need within our city and district.”

Councillors from all parties supported the proposal with SDLP councillor Rory Farrell adding: “It’s good news we are bang on the budget with a small surplus of £68k for last year.  We didn’t spend money we didn’t have and we kept a close eye on costs so that’s testament to the diligence and dedication of the entire team, especially Alfie.”

He added: “We have significant challenges for the year ahead. We’ve got rising utility costs, we’ve soaring inflation, we’ve got pension costs and we’ve got pay pressures as well which none have been budgeted for so it’s good we are in the position where there’s no overspend last year.

“In terms of the proposal to put the £68k from last year into the hardship fund we fully support that. We’ve got rising utility costs but so does everyone out there so we need to be looking after the community out there.”

As Colr. Jackson is not a member of the committee, party colleague councillor Conor Heaney proposed the £68k was redirected into the council’s hardship fund.

Supporting the proposal, UUP Alderman Ryan McCready urged some caution.

He said: “We can’t make decisions we haven’t budgeted for and some of the issues which I take an observational concern at is we’re basically negotiating with employees in terms of the dispute and that’s not quantified yet so we don’t know what that bill will b and yet we are moving around monies that were pencilled in for reserves. 

“Whilst I’ll make an exception in this case because of the £68k I know where it has come from it’s a surplus and being redirected into the council’s hardship fund it is very appropriate and has my full support.”

Whilst supporting the redistribution of the £68k, DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney added:   “There are challenges ahead but I do understand the pressures our citizens are under around the cost of living crisis which is ongoing. However, we do have to be mindful as we move forward sorting out wages and with the other pressures that come.”

Concurring with councillor Jackson’s sentiments, Independent councillor Raymond Barr added: “I feel that given the important financial situation facing constituents in the district there is an onus on us as a council to do what we can to alleviate the hardships currently being experienced.”