BUSINESSES in Clare have expressed their surprise and annoyance with the decision of county councillors to vote in favour of a 3.8 percent increase in commercial rates.

Clare, Leitrim and Cork are presently the only local authorities to have increased their commercial rates during the pandemic, a move which has left business owners in the county shell-shocked.

Calls from Ennis and Shannon Chambers to defer the vote on Friday’s budget were defeated with the representative groups frustrated to only have had forty eight hours notice of the measures following a briefing with Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling.

In a joint statement to The Clare Echo, Ennis and Shannon Chamber on behalf of their 500 member companies expressed their disappointment, “the decision is very much at odds with Government decisions and acceptance that businesses still need support to enable them to overcome the challenges they have faced since the onset of COVID-19 and continue to face, as cases rise, and a new variant has been detected”.

Dermot Fetton of Henry’s Bistro & Wine Bar admitted, “I actually thought it was a joke, I didn’t think it could be true, when I realised it was true I was absolutely flabbergasted”. He was adamant the timing was awful for such an increase, “we’ve been in it together since March 2020 and we need to support hospitality, we can’t stand for this, it is not acceptable at this time”.

“It’s like a death by a thousand cuts, it is all these little things and they all add up. As an industry, it has been so hard to hold onto your people, we’ve been very lucky in Henry’s Bistro we’ve held onto everyone through the whole pandemic. These kind of things don’t make it any easier, it is exasperating,” Dermot told The Clare Echo.

Up to 13 percent have been missed in rates collections, Lahinch based Michael Vaughan flagged as he questioned the thinking behind the Council’s decision. “Overall the optics in the climate we’re in are not good, nearly every councillor I’ve spoken to agreed with me that the optics weren’t good. The Council management played a fantastic game, they told their councillors that their GMA others might call it a slush fund would come under threat. A single councillor I spoke to wasn’t prepared to vote against the increase, the rural councillors seemed to fear more than any that they would lose this discretionary spend”.

Positive actions have been made by the local authority in recent years such as its investment in Lahinch prior to the Irish Open, the owner of Vaughan Lodge Hotel acknowledged. “I’ve never given out about an increase in other years but solidarity is the order of the day at the moment and it wasn’t achieved. A rate is a tax and you’ve no way out of it. From my point of view, it will amount to a good few hundred quid of an increase, I’m facing a revaluation next year anyway and will have an additional increase in my rate of 25 percent, that will happen because I added some rooms on in 2019. It’s not going to be catastrophic for the business, I will find a way and I will pay the rate but we’re looking for our public services to be lean and efficient and to have efficient means of operating their business and I’m not sure Clare County Council has achieved full efficiency in their business yet, if you’re only able to collect 87 percent of the sales that you make in a business you wouldn’t be considered a successful business”.

Allen Flynn owner of The Old Ground Hotel said he was shocked to hear of the increase. “It has been the Government supports that have kept us alive and they continue to keep us alive, nobody is thriving in this period, it’s a matter of surviving. The supports we have will need to be continued right up until the second quarter of next year. Government supports are keeping us going and then we have an individual authority that decides to increase the rates, it was a kick in the teeth to businesses more than anything”.

He said the biggest disappointment was the rejection of calls to defer the vote. “It’s more the principle of it. If we’re working together to come out of the COVID situation which we’ve all been in for two years, we would certainly have asked that there be more consultation with the Chamber, I believe the Chamber only got two days notice that the rates were going up. All the Ennis councillors voted against it and they brought up that it would have been great to know there was a period of consultation where other areas could have been looked at in terms of cost reductions as opposed to increasing rates for a hospitality industry which is already on its knees”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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