On Friday the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) brought together council elected members and officials from across Northern Ireland to hear first-hand from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, regarding his Department’s collaboration with local government and joint challenges ahead.
Members of councils and Minister Poots discussed several major policy issues from climate action to agriculture and fisheries to rural development, with councillors raising crucial areas of mutual concern including Brexit, the EU Withdrawal Agreement, the Environmental Strategy and recycling
Cllr Frances Burton (Mid Ulster District Council) NILGA Office Bearer, commented: “I welcome the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister’s input into the monthly NILGA Executive meeting, which was ably chaired on my behalf by Alderman Audrey Wales MBE, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council. We are almost nine months into dealing with the Covid pandemic and while I, like everyone, welcome the recent positive news on a potential vaccine, recovery of rural communities and the development of a more sustainable economy with better resourced councils must be planned for and invested in now.”
“The Minister’s vast portfolio requires local actions through local councils as well as Stormont led measures so we intend to re-double our efforts to collaborate with DAERA and all departments in Stormont. We – nor the public purse – cannot afford to work in silos; we must co-design policies & services accordingly. As we look to rebuild socially and economically as a region and we plot our recovery from the pandemic, it is essential that councils are properly resourced, to rebuild our rural and urban High Streets in partnership, carry out essential, modern waste management services and invest in both rural infrastructure and a circular economy driven by small businesses, farm families and entrepreneurs”.
Speaking after the meeting, Minister Poots said: “I welcomed the opportunity to speak at the NILGA Executive and thank Councillor Burton for her invitation. As Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, I know that the work we all do touches everyone in Northern Ireland. Fundamental issues such as food, waste, fisheries, rural support and the environment matter to everyone, no matter who they are.
“I very much share NILGA’s view that local and central government need to work together both strategically and on the ground in the response to the Covid pandemic and other current and global challenges.
“In recognition of the key role Councils play in the response to Covid, I have been able to allocate £29.1 million of funding to Local Councils for the 2020-21 financial year. Indeed my support package for Covid overall to Councils, the agri-food industry, fisheries and rural support is the most wide-reaching and generous allocation by any UK or EU administration. As we discussed today, while funding is extremely important and welcome, it is not the only driver. Innovation, positivity, working at pace in collaboration with Councils and other stakeholders has been crucial. Specifically, it has ensured we continue to put food on the table; have a functioning waste sector; a sustainable landscape; a healthy environment; and supported rural communities.”
“We must face our future challenges in a similar way, learning from our responses to Covid-19. We face many challenges ahead for our local, national and international agri-food supply chains, with an increasing need to adapt and mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. I firmly believe that if we are to make the right choices and realise the opportunities which lie ahead, we need to be in this together addressing areas of mutual concern.
“I look forward to working together, across government, and in partnership with business and society, to ensure that Northern Ireland can build its understanding of the real opportunities afforded by COVID19 recovery, Green Growth and the transition to a greener low-carbon circular economy.”