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Councils must be ready to play their part in rebuilding economy, says Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said local councils must be ready to play their part in rebuilding the economy.

It comes as a further five Covid-related deaths in Northern Ireland were announced by the Department of Health, bringing the total to 494.

This expected to rise, as more comprehensive figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reported 599 deaths by May 8.

In the UK, a further 363 deaths have been confirmed in the last 24 hours bringing the total to 35,704.

The Irish Republic have recorded a further 16 deaths with the total now at 1,561.

This week, Ms Hargey announced £20.3m in funding to help Northern Ireland’s 11 councils pay their bills and deliver essential services.

Speaking at the daily Executive briefing, she said: “It will also help to make sure they are ready to play their part in the post recovery of this pandemic and to limit the financial impact on rate payers going forward.”

Other funding measures announced this week are £10m for the Supporting People programme, which provides housing support for 19,000 people including the homeless, elderly, disabled and those with mental health issues.

A programme to deliver food parcels to vulnerable people will also receive £10m over the next three months.

Ms Hargey said by the end of this week around 100,000 parcels will have been delivered.

She added that a £15.5m fund to support local charities is expected to be launched shortly, with an upper award limit of £75,000.

With around 2,500 council staff currently furloughed, she was asked if she feared councils were heading towards a cliff edge as the scheme is due to end in October.

Ms Hargey said the furlough scheme would be reviewed in August, and the Executive were exploring how extra income may be generated.

“There will have to be discussions with the Treasury, even to see if there are additional powers that can be transferred back from Westminster into the power sharing executive here," she said.

“We’re looking at other measures, house building programmes for example, which can start to stimulate the economy again.”

She said dealing with the pandemic, did not automatically mean councils would have to cut jobs and services.

“We see the local governments playing a key role in economic recovery,” she said.

“We’ve seen them respond to the Covid-19 pandemic through the food parcel scheme, through prescriptions and making sure that those who are shielding are having essential services delivered to them.”

Belfast Telegraph