We proceed now to questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Question No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Ó Broin.
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Eoin Ó BroinQuestion:
1. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the measures he plans to put in place to address the rent arrears debt burden arising from tenants falling behind in their rent due to Covid-19 temporary lay-offs. [17908/20]
As the Minister will be aware, a significant number of renters have lost income or jobs as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. We are all concerned about the impact of what we are calling the rent arrears debt burden on both tenants and the rental sector overall.
Will the Minister outline if he has received the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, research report his Department commissioned on this issue and outline what his plans are to deal with this rent arrears burden?
I thank Deputy Ó Broin for raising this important issue. It is important we understand that we deal with any issues that relate to residual debt, particularly, with renters, due to losing jobs or income because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Deputy will be aware, tenants are required to pay rent to their landlord during the Covid-19 emergency period and in the event of tenants having difficulty doing so, they are encouraged to engage with landlords at the earliest opportunity. My Department recently published a guidance document on Covid-19 support for both tenants and landlords that sets out emergency rental measures, income and other supports available to tenants and landlords during this emergency period. That document is available on the Residential Tenancies Board's website and it is also a frequently asked question so it is pretty handy. It is prominent on that site to help people.
Regarding the ESRI report, as the Deputy will be aware, my Department operated a programme of collaborative research principally focused on housing economics. Under this programme, researchers from the institute and my Department prepared a research paper exploring the short-run implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the private rental market. The research paper is focused on rental payment affordability and the potential incidents of arrears during the first three months of the pandemic among non-supported private market renting households, that is, among renting households that did not receive any housing subsidies. Changes in consumption patterns arising from public health measures are also considered in the paper. I am glad to say the preliminary research findings do not identify a significant rent arrears problem emerging during the first three months of the pandemic. I do not have that report yet, but I have been in contact with the ESRI and expect to receive it in the coming days. Once I receive it, I intend to share and publish it because it will be important that we work on it together as an Oireachtas.
I thank the Minister for his response. Sinn Féin conducted an online survey of renters recently and more than 1,000 renters replied with a good geographical, age and income spread. While the survey does not claim to be scientifically representative, it gives us an insight. Some 60% of respondents said they had lost income due to Covid-19 and a significant number, almost 70%, believed they would have rent arrears of up to €3,000 after the first three months. A further 13% expected the rent arrears to go up as much as €5,000.
We would not have expected significant rent arrears in the first month because people would have paid their month's rent in advance and possibly even in the second month. However, given that a disproportionate number of those who are on the pandemic unemployment benefit, PUP, are young renters in sectors of the economy that are not going to recover fully, certainly, until the very end of this year, will the Minister give a commitment to work with the Opposition and landlords' and tenants' representative organisations to put together a proper pathway to deal with what could be a significant level of rent arrears on the other side of Covid-19?
This is going to be an issue and we must base our response on the scientific research. The Deputy mentioned Sinn Féin has carried out research. I am carrying out research through the ESRI and the initial response from that is there has not been a massive increase. However, I take the point it is in the first three months and we have got to watch that.
Measures like the PUP and temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, have helped and many of our renters are in the hospitality sector and sectors that have been badly hit by the pandemic. I use this opportunity to remind people we also have the emergency rent supplement payment and only 7,000 applicants have applied for it. That is a concern and I have raised it on a regular basis in every media interview I have done to get that support out there. People should not fall into rent arrears due to losing their job or their wages being reduced due the pandemic. Once the report is published, I will share it and I am happy to discuss it with all Members of the Dáil.
I thank the Minister for his constructive reply and I absolutely share his concern about the low level of uptake of the rent supplement. That is because the previous and current Ministers with responsibility for social protection and the Department are not doing enough to promote that payment. I echo the Minister's call for people to avail of it. If one looks at the latest figures from the Department on rent supplements, the average rent supplement payment currently for those 7,000 applicants is €670 per month. In Dublin, it is only €783 per month, and given that average rents in Dublin now are €1,700 per month, that shows that even if one is getting the rent supplement, and it is a good support, there is still the very real possibility of significant arrears.
I also urge the Minister to not only engage with us, but to actively consider the possibility of including partial or full write-downs of arrears as part of an overall package, including interest-free payment holidays for landlords on their mortgages as well as the rent supplement. This will ensure the burden of those rent arrears is not left solely at the door of renters but is fairly shared across all concerned.
Any response will be based on fact and on the research we have done. I will be open to looking at all options once I have that information to hand. I would say to Members that we need to look at further protection of tenants' rights on a permanent basis as well. That is why in the next couple of days I intend to bring to Cabinet a new residential tenancies (amendment) Bill which I will have in the Oireachtas next week. There are some permanent measures to strengthen rights for tenants, but it will also look at the area, particularly, around rent arrears and how we can flag them sooner and provide assistance to tenants, so we do not build up a large amount of rent arrears. I look forward to bringing that Bill to the House next week and to constructive engagement with those in the Opposition on it. I will act once I have the data and research, based on the facts the ESRI bring to me in the coming days.
Aodhán Ó RíordáinQuestion:
2. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if a review of the strategic housing development process is under way by his Department; his views on the structure of such a review; and if a report will be prepared on the matter. [17677/20]
I want to ask the Minister about the strategic housing development Act brought in by the previous Government and if he is conducting a review of that Act. I understand that Act and its provisions are to continue until mid-2022.
It is controversial legislation. It overrides local authorities and their planning processes and has led to much upset and controversy in local communities. I want to get a sense from the Minister of the plan of the Government to renew the terms of the Act.
I thank the Deputy for his question. The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 introduced what the previous Government defined as a new streamlined arrangement to enable planning applications for strategic housing developments, SHDs, of 100 units or more or student or shared accommodation developments of 200 bed spaces or more to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála for determination.
Section 4(2) of the Act provided for the possibility of the extension of the SHD arrangements beyond their initial end date of 31 December 2019 to 31 December 2021. The Deputy will be aware of that. This is subject to the undertaking of a review of the operation and effectiveness of the SHD arrangements and the laying of a report, as well as the Minister's conclusions on that report, before each House of the Oireachtas.
In this regard, an external SHD review group was established by the previous Minister in June 2019. The report of the review group was received by the previous Minister on 24 September 2019.
The previous Minister signed an order on 2 December 2019 to extend the SHD arrangements to 31 December 2021, which is the end date of Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. That is the maximum period for which SHD arrangements could be extended under the Act. Copies of the reports are available on my Department's website. I am sure the Deputy has one.
The new Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to not extending the SHD arrangements beyond their legislative expiry date of 31 December 2021. I give a commitment again in the House that there will be no further extension to the SHD arrangements. Given that a recent review was carried out, I have no plans to initiate a further review of the SHD provisions prior to the expiry of those arrangements. I will not extend them beyond 31 December 2021.
I am glad to hear the Minister say that because he was quite vocal in his constituency on this matter. Fianna Fáil representatives in my constituency were very concerned about this legislation on the basis that it was not doing what it was designed to do because a number of planning cases ended up in the High Court and it was overriding the powers of the local authority. When something overrides a local authority, it overrides the democratically constituted development plan of the city.
As people know, councillors have limited powers but one of the powers they do have is to put together a development plan, which includes zonings. If legislation can override that and people can go directly to An Bord Pleanála for developments comprising more than 100 units, this means that An Bord Pleanála does not have to be bound as rigidly by the zonings, which has led to a lot of controversy about certain lands which are zoned in a particular way. I know the Minister will appreciate that. I want him to reaffirm his commitment that he will not extend SHD legislation beyond the date he has indicated.
I thank the Deputy. He has been very vocal and active on this issue in his constituency, as well as elsewhere. I have raised concerns publicly about this process. To wind it down now would take as long as it would take for it to expire. I can give the Deputy a firm commitment.
Colleagues in my party also raised concerns about this matter on a number of occasions. In the programme for Government we have made a commitment that there will be no further extension beyond the expiry date of the SHD process. I want to make sure that our local authorities and planning teams are resourced so that they are able to deliver housing that is sustainable for our people and the infrastructure that is badly needed. My focus, as Minister, and that of my Department, along with my colleagues, is to deliver homes for people and families. That is what we intend to do. The SHD provision will not extend any further than its expiry date. I can give the Deputy that commitment.
It is crucially important for local democracy that people elect their local councillors and that those councillors oversee the development plan, the running of the city and zonings. The latter are there for particular reasons, namely, to protect open spaces and build communities which can thrive into the future and which people can live in and enjoy. Councillors and council planners are there to oversee a city, county or area that works. The legislation to which I refer is particularly destructive in that regard. I am glad the Minister has recognised that and that we can work together to ensure that it will not be renewed. We will hold the Minister to that commitment because we do not want him to change his mind six months or a year from now.
I give the Deputy a firm commitment, on my first set of Priority Questions as Minister, in public and in front of colleagues that these provisions will not be extended. We will need to work together on the joint committee on housing, local government and heritage, as it will be constituted, on how we can strengthen resources within our local authorities and planning teams so that we can deliver good plans more quickly.
One of the arguments going back to the passing of this legislation was that there was a hold-up in the planning process in 2016. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to the use-it-or-lose-it clause for planning permissions that relate to any development of over ten homes. As a Government, we will address that and I look forward to working with the Deputy on it because if someone is granted planning permission there should be a reasonable time given for that person to activate it. People should not be allowed to continuously extend planning permission or flip it over. I can give the Deputy a firm commitment that there will be no extension past the expiry date of SHDs.
Eoin Ó BroinQuestion:
3. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if shared equity will be considered in his approach to affordable housing; and if the purchase prices he has quoted recently in the media are inclusive or exclusive of the shared equity stake to be acquired by the State. [17909/20]
As the Minister will announce the detail of his affordable housing scheme in September, I will not ask him to reveal the detail of it. I have a concern that he seems to have two different and competing definitions of what constitutes affordable housing. During the election campaign he correctly called for affordable homes to be delivered at a cost of €250,000 or less, a position shared by Sinn Féin. More recently, he is on the record of the Dáil as saying that setting absolute limits on the price of affordable homes is flawed and that he is instead opting for the equity share model. Can he clarify which of the two models he is basing his scheme on and the full price he will expect people to pay for much-needed affordable homes?
I thank the Deputy. As he knows, I am committed to putting affordability back at the heart of our housing system through the expansion and acceleration of State-backed affordable housing.
Long-term financial sustainability is an important guiding principle to ensure that individuals and families can be helped to secure affordable housing on an ongoing basis.
Therefore, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, under which affordable homes for purchase will be made available, provides for a charge equal to the percentage discount on market value up to a maximum of 40%. The amount charged must be repaid to the Housing Authority by the end of the charge period of at least 25 years. It may also be paid off by instalments anytime after the first five years of the charge period.
Since taking up office at the end of June I have established two top-level groups of delivery partners. One will target homelessness services and social housing provision in the immediate term and another will work on homelessness and social and public housing. In the weeks ahead I will be expanding the work to encompass affordable housing. I have started that work, building on the work I did in opposition and on the commitments I made in my party's manifesto and those contained in the programme for Government. While I am preparing and doing that work, I will not inhibit what might be in it. There will be a number of delivery mechanisms in an affordable scheme that works.
While I mentioned ceilings and rates on salaries and prices, I remind the Deputy that the motion brought forward by Sinn Féin on affordable housing referred to basic salary caps of €75,000 for couples, which is not helpful. I say that because in urban areas, such as the greater Dublin area, a couple earning average incomes will be over that threshold. I want to make sure that cohort is included in proposed schemes.
I will not set a ceiling on prices yet. I will bring a detailed report on delivery to the House and publish it in the autumn. I seek feedback. The Deputy has published a scheme which is very similar to one of mine. We all want to make sure that we provide affordable housing which can be purchased by working people. That is what I intend to do.
I thank the Minister. The problem is that there are two ways of addressing this issue. The first is that houses are built and sold at cost price and, in that scenario, the price can be determined at the outset. The alternative is to take a market price at a discount, but that discount must be repaid. That second model is of shared equity, as the Minister has just mentioned. The difficulty is that when that model was used most recently, when Fianna Fáil was most recently in government, it caused problems when the crash of 2008 happened because, under the old shared ownership scheme, 44% of shared ownership householders fell into significant mortgage arrears in the years that followed. That was four times the mortgage arrears rate for the overall economy.
Shared equity is not affordability. Rather, it is simply a way to get around the Central Bank's sensible macroprudential rules. Will the Minister opt for the full-cost recovery model which would allow for the delivery of genuinely affordable homes - at prices in Dublin, for example, of €230,000 or less - or will he go for the shared equity model, under which people have an initial price of €250,000 or €260,000 but ultimately must pay more than €300,000 because, as the Minister said, they must repay 40% in addition to the mortgage? That latter option is not genuine affordability.
Sometimes the Deputy thinks he has all the answers on these matters but he does not. There are not only two mechanisms to deliver affordable homes. There are other mechanisms that can deliver. I have stated publicly the guide on prices that I want to see. Depending on the type of house in question and the area in which it is, that price would be between €160,000 and €260,000. There will be different economic realities depending on the sites of those houses. There is an emphasis in the programme for Government on delivering public homes on public land and affordable homes. I am also bringing that emphasis. There will be options for affordable purchase and cost rental. We also need a national cost rental plan. I have asked the expert group, which have met on that matter for well over a year, to start to conclude their considerations and bring me a report before the end of the year. It is important that we get this right. There may be a number of delivery mechanisms for affordable homes and I am looking at those options. I will not restrict myself at this early stage because I do not think that would be prudent. I believe that if the Deputy were sitting in my chair, he would not restrict himself either. My priority is making sure that couples and individuals will be able to buy homes that are truly affordable.
My concern is that the Minister is evading the question. I am not talking about delivery streams, I am talking about the fundamental principle of what constitutes affordability. There is a universally accepted distinction in the industry between building homes and selling them at the cost of building them, and thereby getting genuine affordability, or allowing the market to dictate a price and the State taking a shared equity portion which must, ultimately, be repaid. The difference is that if the Government opts for the second option that the Minister has talked about repeatedly, families do not end up buying a home for €250,000 or less, but pay €300,000 or more. That is what happened in O'Devaney Gardens. The purchase price was allegedly €310,000 but finally amounted to €360,000. The available options are houses that are bought at cost price or at a market discount. One cannot have both, and the sooner the Minister decides which of those models he will go for, the sooner hard-working families are going to know if this Government will deliver genuinely affordable homes or, like the most recent Fianna Fáil Government, homes that look affordable but are not and get purchasers into trouble at a later stage.
To be fair, if we had moved on the Sinn Féin motion that the Deputy put forward, we would have had an inferior and unworkable affordable housing scheme that would have left more than 40% of those who need affordable housing out of the system on the basis of the arbitrary cap on earnings of €75,000 for a couple.
What the Minister has said is not true. He should read the proposal.
I did not interrupt the Deputy once. The Sinn Féin scheme stated that a couple can apply if their gross earnings are less than €75,000. We are not going to do that.
Nor will Sinn Féin.
Tá brón orm, but I did not interrupt the Deputy once.
I would like to hear only one voice.
Sometimes the Deputy does not like hearing the truth and that is fine. The truth may not suit the Deputy. Let us focus on the issue at hand.
Which model of delivery is the Government going to pursue?
Deputy Ó Broin, please.
I am exercised about this matter. It is a priority for me and has been for a number of years. Others who are now questioning me are late converts to the affordable purchase scheme, including people who voted against affordable purchase just 18 months ago.
The Minister is misleading the House.
What I have said is true and on the record of the House. I would say to the Deputy that the public do not want to see him shouting at me and bickering with me. The public want to see an affordable purchase scheme that will deliver for them. That is what this Government intends to provide. When I have a plan, I will publish it and discuss it in an adult way. I hope that there will be constructive engagement from the Opposition, which there is in many parts of the Opposition. I hope to do that in an open way so we can deliver affordable homes for our people.
May I ask a supplementary question?
The time for that question is over. The Deputy is not allowed to come in. I will move on to the next question from Deputy Cian O'Callaghan.
4. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if measures will be introduced to improve security of tenure for persons renting; if the grounds for evictions will be limited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17911/20]
First, I welcome the comments that the Minister made about working collaboratively with Opposition spokespeople. If the Government proposals for the committee system go through, not only will some of us not be on the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, we will not be on any committee. That needs to be looked at.
What are the Minister's plans to improve security of tenure through immediate legislation, published in the next couple of days? Will further legislation on improving security of tenure be introduced later in the year?
I thank the Deputy and assure him that, whether he is on the housing committee or not, I intend to work with any Deputy who brings forward constructive measures on housing. I will absolutely do that. The matter of the composition of committees is for the Whips and the Business Committee. I cannot control it.
To answer his specific question, the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2019 provide that where a tenant has been in occupation of a dwelling for a continuous period of six months with no valid notice of termination having been served during that time, a Part 4 tenancy is established to cover the next five years and six months. Section 34 of the Act provides that a landlord must state a reason for the termination of any tenancy notice served in accordance with the grounds for termination set out in the table to that section.
The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to improving security and affordability for renters. To achieve that, we will develop a cost rental model for delivery of housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for construction and management of homes. We will also support the adequate supply of rental accommodation by ensuring equity and fairness for tenants and landlords alike. We will reform the fair deal scheme to incentivise renting out vacant properties, which is a massive issue. We will improve security of tenure for tenants and increase Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, enforcement. I am also examining incentives for further long-term leasing. I am going to instruct local authorities, as part of their housing strategies, to undertake and publish a rental needs assessment.
To answer the Deputy's specific question, subject to Cabinet approval, I aim to introduce residential tenancy legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess to further protect tenants who have been economically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He mentioned in that reply that he is looking at incentives, cost rental and different measures. Is he actually going to look at measures that will improve security of tenure for tenants across the board? We need more than just incentives for long-term tenancies. I do not think there is any rationale for a four-year cut-off point, after which one is back to the start. Will the Minister be looking at getting rid of that four-year limit so that, once one has established a tenancy, apart from grounds such as failure to pay rent or anti-social behaviour, one can keep that tenancy? Will the Minister be examining that issue?
Will the emergency legislation that the Minister is considering only cover tenants who can prove that they have been specifically impacted by Covid-19? Will it not offer general reform and protection for renters over the next few months? The Minister might clarify those matters.
There will be a couple of parts to the Bill that I bring forward. One relates to significant and permanent changes to tenancy protections that will endure beyond the Covid pandemic. We all want to see the pandemic conclude as soon as possible, but it will be with us for a while. I will bring forward other measures, subject to Cabinet approval, and the Bill has not been approved by Cabinet yet. Those measures are focused on those who are most vulnerable during the pandemic. I hope to be in a position to publish that legislation in the next couple of days.
There are other things at which I am looking, for the information of the House. I have received anecdotal evidence as both a Deputy and a Minister to the effect that the termination of a tenancy due to sale was being abused in some areas, prior to the pandemic. I am looking clearly at that issue to make sure that if a notice of termination is issued for reason of the sale of the property, outside the pandemic emergency legislation, there needs to be a follow-up to make sure that sale has happened.
When a sale does not happen and it has just been used as an excuse to put someone out, we must be very tough on those who break the rules. There are other elements I am also examining.
I thank the Minister. I was a member of the Government commission on the private residential sector which drew up the plans that are currently in place. I was a representative of tenants' interests at the time. Even though it was more than 20 years ago, the means by which many of the grounds for eviction in the legislation came about are very clear. They are far too wide in scope and need to be narrowed. This is fundamentally about whether a rental home is actually a home as well as an investment vehicle for someone who is renting it out, and whether rights come with that status. Are those rights paramount and will they be recognised as such? We need to recognise that a rented property is a home.
I would like to ask about narrowing the grounds for termination and making further improvements beyond the scope of the legislation the Minister is bringing to Cabinet. What is the timeframe for this action? When will these measures be taken?
There will be some permanent measures in the Bill I intend to bring before the House next week. They will take effect from 2 August so there will be no gap between them and the current protections. There will be a seamless transition to the new provisions. The session of the Dáil beginning in September will also be important. We will need to work with the joint committee on further measures. I have mentioned one example concerning termination on the grounds of sale. That ground for termination can be very valid but I have evidence that it is sometimes used erroneously. There are things we need to do there.
Fundamentally, I want to ensure we are providing secure tenancies and secure public housing. People must have a home to call their own, including through public housing schemes. I want public housing on public land. We will introduce the Land Development Agency legislation in the next session. The affordable purchase scheme and the affordable rental scheme are also a part of that effort. There is a lot of work we must do together which is very important for this country. We will see some movements in that regard next week and very early in September.
Local Authority Funding
Eoin Ó BroinQuestion:
5. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the estimated rates and non-rates funding shortfall for local authorities in 2020; and if he will fully meet this shortfall in order that local authorities do not have to cut staff or services due to the loss of income during the Covid-19 pandemic. [17910/20]
In March, the Minister took the decision to freeze rates for businesses. From March to June, rates were waived entirely. This was welcome but it was only an interim measure. How will the shortfalls for the remainder of this year be addressed?
In order to support the local government sector, my Department continues to keep local authority income, expenditure and cash flow under review and is working with all local authorities on all issues arising in the context of the Covid-19 public health emergency.
While the County and City Management Association has estimated the loss of non-rates income for 2020 to be in the region of €91 million, it is not possible to accurately calculate the loss of income from commercial rates for all of 2020 at this stage due to the range of payment plans available to ratepayers and the variety of payment patterns among ratepayers of different sectors.
As the Deputy will be aware, earlier this year a waiver of commercial rates for a three-month period from 27 March 2020 was announced for all businesses that had been forced to close due to public health requirements. I assure her that the Department and I are absolutely committed to supporting local authorities in every possible way during the Covid-19 emergency. I am determined that there will be no loss of staff or services in local authority areas due to loss of income.
Against this background, my Department has been working with colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on a package of support measures for businesses and local authorities which will address the treatment of commercial rates until the end of September. This will be undertaken in the context of the July stimulus package. This package will be considered by the Government this afternoon and an announcement will follow shortly.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I, too, am concerned about the estimated deficit of €90 million predicted by the County and City Management Association. The Minister of State does not need to be told that huge holes will have to be plugged if services are to continue effectively and if the councils are to avoid any staff cuts. Funding is required in three areas, namely, the revenue usually raised through rates, non-rates revenue and moneys for Covid-19-related expenses, which I understand will amount to millions of euro. Can the Minister of State commit to addressing that?
I assure the Deputy that the Department is working very hard and liaising with local authorities on a daily basis to measure the funding deficit and plan the July stimulus, which will be announced later today. Rates account for approximately 30% of local authorities' income on average. Goods and services account for in the region of 28% of their income, a sum of €1.5 billion nationally. We have been very clear that the July stimulus package must be of the appropriate scale and must reach businesses in a timely fashion. In regard to rates and the funding of local authorities, it is clear that the quickest way to get cash to businesses is to refrain from taking it away in the first instance. That has been the trajectory of the Government from the start. We will keep in touch with local authorities and I am confident that we will see a very strong and robust response from the Government this afternoon.
I thank the Minister of State. I am sure the city and county managers and local councillors from all parties and none are disappointed by his response. They need absolute certainty. I will give the Minister of State an example of the financial impact Covid-19 has had on Dublin City Council alone. Dublin City Council faces €41 million in additional costs due to Covid-19. It has experienced a loss of non-rates income of €32 million. The Minister of State will agree that this is a really serious situation. Communities and people throughout the State rely heavily on services provided by their local councils. We must ensure that there are no cuts to services in our communities or staff numbers. This matter must be addressed urgently.
I am a little perplexed by the Deputy's comments. I have been very clear that certainty will be provided by the Government later today. Our response will be of scale. I said very clearly in my initial reply that there will be no cuts to local authority staff or services. I made that absolutely crystal clear. I also made it very clear that the components of today's stimulus package aimed at local authorities will be of scale and will be timely. I have been absolutely clear that the Department is liaising with local authorities to fill this gap and that we will come back this afternoon with clear certainty in terms of the trajectory to get through this pandemic. We will provide certainty for all local authorities. The Government has been to the forefront in supporting businesses throughout this pandemic. It has gone far beyond the effort made in other jurisdictions. That will continue to be the case. This stimulus package will be of the scale required to get our economy going again and to support all our small businesses.