I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 80 together.
My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, both in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and reductions in some local authority income streams. These matters are under active consideration in my Department. Local authorities have been requested to capture all related costs in their financial systems to aid financial analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on the local government sector.
In order to support the sector generally, my Department continues to keep income, expenditure and cash flow under review and will continue to work with all local authorities, both collectively and individually, on issues arising.
To support both the sector and the business community, €600m has been allocated by Government, as part of the July Stimulus package, to fund the cost of a waiver of commercial rates for six months for eligible businesses badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This takes the form of a credit in lieu of rates.
It is important to take account of the important role of elected members in the financial affairs of local authorities. The elected members have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, which includes adopting the annual budget and authorising borrowing. The Local Government Act 2001 requires that local authorities prepare their annual budgets in a statutory format. This format requires that budgeted expenditure equals budgeted income. The cost of servicing any existing loans must also be included in the annual budget and it is a matter for the local authority to engage with lenders on the cost of servicing such loans.