Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are planning to furlough some staff following confirmation yesterday from the Stormont Executive that council workers can apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

In reply to a request by a council spokesperson said “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council will avail of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for employees who work in services where there is loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who cannot be redeployed to do other work. This falls in line with guidance from the Department for Communities."

At present it's unknown how many employees will be affected.

Ensure Workers Rights are Respected

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA had welcomed the confirmation that councils can apply for the CJRS saying “Officials in my Department have been working with Councils, to understand the extent to which councils can manage the COVID-19 situation by making use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

“As a result of this work and discussions with the Department of Finance, I can confirm that Councils are eligible to apply to furlough staff through the CJRS.

“My priority has been to ensure that the rights of workers are respected and to protect jobs."

NI Councils Losing £10.5M a month

* It has also been revealed that Northern Ireland councils are losing £10.5 million a month and could be forced to cut services.

Their umbrella body the NI Local Government Authority has warned of a “cash crisis” for councils who have invested £40 million in the Covid-19 response and their rates income could be down by a quarter this financial year. 

Derek McCallan, NILGA chief executive, said councils have gone beyond their remit, giving out 40,000 emergency food parcels and opening leisure centres to manufacturers making personal protective equipment.

He said: “It’s been heartening to see that partnership but these things come with a cost.

“We’re expecting 150 million of non-payments [of rates] during this financial year in addition to the month-by-month losses.

“That really points to one thing –  cessation or a severe reduction in services.”

NILGA wants the Treasury to provide the same package they have given English councils, which translates to around £50 million for NI.

They could also ask the Treasury to underwrite unpaid rates.

Mr McCallan said: “Recovery in many cases would be severely halted if the very facilities and support to get the economy back again are severely restricted or don’t exist.

* Jessica Black, Local Democracy Reporter

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