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Sat, May
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Calls for State support as Council haemorrhages money

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'REVENUE STREAM DECIMATED' Peter Duggan, who is taking over as the Interim Chief Executive of Mayo County Council this week, had a stark warning for councillors regarding the current state of the finances of the local authority. Pic: Michael McLaughlin



Talk of Council redundancies dismissed as premature

Michael Gallagher

Many Mayo businesses will not open after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted unless immediate financial support comes from central government. That was the stark message delivered by Cllr Paul McNamara at Monday’s meeting of Mayo County Council in GMIT Castlebar.
The historic gathering in St Mary’s Hall heard that the local authority is haemorrhaging money at the moment, with record losses of €1.75 million per month.
Peter Duggan, Director of Finance, brought the reality of the situation to the floor when he told councillors the local authority’s revenue stream has been decimated, and like every other business in the country it faced an uncertain future.
His report initiated a discussion that was passionate if somewhat tangential, including talk of everything from redundancies and borrowing to helicopter money and flatulating cows. However, Cllr McNamara cut to the chase by calling for immediate Government intervention and continued investment in local services.
“Turning off the tap is not the answer. We’re in uncharted waters at the moment, and if support doesn’t come immediately from central government, many businesses in this county will not open up again. We need to invest in them to keep them alive and give them the breathing space to get through this, but mark my words, it has to be done very, very urgently,” said the Achill-based councillor.
These remarks were seconded by Cllr Michael Smyth, who urged council officials to investigate the prospect of borrowing money to spend on targeted projects to get the economy up and running. “Ideally the Government need to fund local authorities, but if they don’t, we have to find solutions ourselves,” he said.

No reserves
The call for subvention was echoed by Cllr Damian Ryan who reminded all in the room that Mayo County Council had no reserve savings, unlike some other local authorities.
“We’re very exposed to this crisis, but we have to show leadership,” he said. “We need the message to go out there that we want to fight our way out of this.”
Cllr Christy Hyland agreed with the need for positivity and felt that money should be put into the economy to build confidence and consolidate and strengthen, but he also raised the prospect of possible redundancies in local authority staff.
“More than 45 percent of our budget goes on wages and salaries, so I ask the question, should we look at redundancies? Tough decisions will have to be made,” he stated.

Strong reaction
The prospect of job losses was not met with support, with Cllrs Jarlath Munnelly and Donna Sheridan among those who reacted strongly before Chief Executive, Peter Hynes, stepped in.
“Redundancies are not what we’re looking for. Talk of this is way, way too premature. We came through the last recession without a single office closure or reduction in services and we aim to do so again,” he said.
Mr Duggan also steered the conversation away from redundancies and said thoughts had to turn towards closing the revenue gap and putting stimulus packages in place to get the economy up and running again.
“We worked with our small businesses through thick and thin in the past,” he said, “and we will continue to do so in the coming months and years.”