FERMANAGH and Omagh District councillors have been effectively censored from commenting publicly after figures were disclosed on the authority’s current financial position, as well as learning that significant sums have been loaned out to two other councils.

During the Policy and Resources Committee meeting, members learned the Council holds £3.7 million in reserves, with a combined total of £6 million having been loaned out – something which appeared not to be widely known in the chamber.

While several members spoke about the positive impact the “healthy” financial position should have for ratepayers, none spoke to the press, having been contacted by officials the day after the meeting and advised against commenting.

The Director of Corporate Services and Governance, Celine McCartan, said management accounts for the nine months up to December 31, 2020, show a surplus – largely from additional £779,000 funding from the furlough scheme – along with exceptional Government funding of just over £2 million.

She explained the surplus will be set aside this year to help with costs and any loss of income due to the impact on rates.

A detailed analysis is under way around the rates estimates process for the 2021/22 year, ahead of a special meeting later this month.

At the meeting, Independent Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh felt the figures weren’t what was expected in the current climate, with a document indicating “at least a £3.7 million surplus, which is almost £1.5 million more than we initially anticipated.

“We have more than £20 million in various places. Am I to take it our capital reserves are now topping £15 million, after having such a positive year in terms of surpluses?”

Ms. McCartan said it was important to look at profile expenditure which would exceed in the timeframe, largely because the Department for Communities general grant is received up-front, then worked through over the course of the year.

She stressed the key figure is the £1.4 million variance, and while agreeing the Council is “ahead”, there is other expenditure, including more than £800,000 on Covid-related costs.

Efficiency savings have been made in some areas, and there have been reductions in many respects due to Covid.

“It’s a positive position, but also very fluid,” she said. “We have actively pursued every avenue to get additional funding to mitigate against the financial impacts of Covid.”

Ms. McCartan also pointed out the figures relate more to the Council’s surplus position as opposed to reserves, and some funds are earmarked, such as for elections.

Councillor Eamon Keenan, Independent said: “It’s obvious great work has been done by our Council to make a profit of £3.7 million surplus this year, which was really exceptional, with the pandemic.

“It gives me great confidence, going forward. There is hope all is not lost financially.”

In respect of banked funds, Sinn Fein’s Councillor Thomas O’Reilly enquired how much was not earmarked, and if the Council had loaned out monies to other councils.

Ms. McCartan advised the general reserve figure approved last year was £3.65 million, which is not allocated, but instead “keeps the Council financially stable”.