The Committee was provided with an update on the recent establishment of a working group to support economic recovery, involving partners from all councils, and to set out the high level work programme for the group.
The Senior Manager – Economy advised that, as part of the local government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly its impact on local economies, SOLACE had agreed to establish a number of working groups to take forward collaborative thinking and actions on areas of mutual and collective interest.
She pointed out that two working groups would be established to focus on distinct areas of work: Council Recovery (internal) and Regional Recovery (external). She highlighted that the Regional Recovery working group would be chaired by Mrs. S. Wylie, and comprises economic development representatives from across the 11 Councils.
The Senior Manager explained that the purpose of the group and the work that it would undertake was to:
· Build an understanding of the scale of the recovery challenge in local council areas across Northern Ireland as well as the impact of global economic changes, including the impact of the EU’s exit from the European Union;
· Identify a series of key short, medium and long term interventions that could contribute to economic and social recovery, thereby stabilising local economies and building local resilience;
· Act as a conduit for engagement with relevant statutory agencies and key decision makers within relevant government departments in order to ensure a collaborative approach to working and to secure additional support for relevant interventions;
· Further the position of local government as a key delivery partner and support the ongoing dialogue around further devolution of powers to local level and the need for place-based responses to support inclusive and sustainable economic growth; and
· Position Local Government as a key player in co-design of a new economic strategy for NI where placed based approaches and sub-regional economies were recognised.
She informed the Committee that, since its establishment in May 2020, the group had met on a number of occasions and the work to date had focused on a number of key issues including:
· Sharing information on town and city centre re-opening and recovery plans;
· Identifying key tactical and strategic engagement opportunities to ensure that local government was represented in and able to influence significant investment decisions relating to economic recovery; and
· Engaging with Invest NI to explore opportunities for accessing additional ERDF resources to support business recovery.
She explained that some of the emerging priority areas of work included securing council-level input into regional recovery plans, leveraging access to additional government resources to support recovery work and building a case to argue for additional ED and regeneration powers for councils – with associated core funding models (evolving from the City Deal approach).
She confirmed that as these work packages emerge, officers would report back to the Committee as appropriate, identifying the specific impact and opportunity for the Council.
The Committee noted:
· the establishment of the SOLACE District/Regional Recovery Group; and
· the key areas of collaborative work as agreed with all council partners.