AN ECONOMIC taskforce is to be set up to address the massive financial impact of the coronavirus on Clare economy, which the council’s CEO has likened to that of a “juggernaut”.
Members of the local authority were updated on the measure, as they gave unanimous backing to a cross-party motion to freeze commercial rates for the duration of the crisis.
At their monthly meeting, councillors heard that the authority anticipates a hit this year of €19.7 million. They agreed that central government must compensate for this loss.
Calling for “a complete freeze on the collection and charging of commercial rates… for the duration of this pandemic and for a time after at the very least,” Councillor Mary Howard said business owners were distraught. She also called for a “mandatory fund” from central government to compensate councils. “I’ve been getting calls from tearful people who didn’t know when they would be able to re-open their business,” she said. “Some still don’t know. We don’t know who is going to survive.”
The motion was jointly tabled by six other members including Councillor Alan O’Callaghan, who said the impact of Covid-19 is “huge and ongoing”. Councillor PJ Kelly said there was “a moral duty” on government to compensate councils; while Councillor Pat Burke said the authority was fortunate to have such a strong team. Councillor Paul Murphy said he was delighted to lend his support, while Councillor Mark Nestor said the business community are “the backbone” of Clare. Councillor Tony O’Brien also backed the appeal to government for compensation.
Councillor Howard’s motion followed a presentation by CEO Pat Dowling and Noeleen Fitzgerald, Director of the Financial and Support Services Directorate. Mr Dowling explained that there were two aspects to the impact of Covid-19. “First of all, we have the juggernaut that has hit us this year,” he said. “Then, we must look at the number of businesses who won’t return to trading and who will no longer be rate payers. What concerns me most is the fact that the economy of Clare will continue to be challenged into the future.”
Ms Fitzgerald outlined that rates contributions came to €44.7 million annually. She explained that the council had implemented the national policy of deferring rates for three-month period and was waiting for further guidance from government on this.
In relation to extra expenditure for PPE, mobility planning and remote working tools, Ms Fitzgerald said that around half a million Euro was needed, and that these costs would form part of a case for compensation. The drop in income would also be included, as well as the impact on the aviation sector.
A statement from the council said the taskforce will be convened later this month “to identify priority economic actions for County Clare and to assist economic sectors, such as tourism and retail, that are in need of support”.