Supporting Business During the Pandemic
Christmas is almost upon us and the doors and shop windows of many businesses that were closed during the Level 5 restrictions are back open. Our towns and villages are busy again. People are spending money and supporting local businesses and jobs.
Despite the Christmas trade, 2020 has been a very difficult year for many businesses in our county. South Dublin County Council has provided a range of supports to businesses to help keep them afloat through restrictions and reduced trade. Through our Local Enterprise Office, we have provided more than €32m in direct support across Restart grants, trading online vouchers, business continuity vouchers and Client Stimulus Schemes. South Dublin County Council has also given a Commercial Rates waiver to eligible businesses, including the vast majority of SMEs, for the nine months since the pandemic took hold, supported by a €900 million special funding allocation from the Government. Over 6,600 commercial rates payers in South Dublin County have been given this waiver, providing over €58m in support during this difficult time.
Financial assistance is one side of our business support. Enabling trade in a safe and responsible environment is the other. We’ve worked with the business community to reimagine and design our towns so that citizens feel comfortable and safe whilst shopping and going about their business. We have three areas of focus:
- providing safer public spaces for business and communities
- helping businesses to trade, by facilitating click-and-collect areas and ‘pick-up and delivery’ services, permitting increased opening hours and waiving licence fees for on-street furniture
- activation measures to help keep people safe, such as collaboration with the arts sector to enliven public areas
The already strong relationship with our businesses has been deepened on the back of strong cooperation from them to ensure appropriate communications and public signage on adherence to public health guidelines.
Promoting the County
The New Year will, of course, bring many of the same challenges for businesses that they have faced throughout 2020. The first quarter of any year is often challenging for businesses. We will continue to respond to requests from the hospitality and retail sector for ways to accommodate increased consumer demand. Local tourism will also be important during the first part of 2021. The council is working with the sector to identify and utilise opportunities for collaboration, including the promotion of destinations to attract domestic tourism.
A comprehensive marketing campaign for the County will, during 2021, build on the Fáilte tourism campaigns to support the tourism operators in the County following the COVID-19 crisis. Delivery of the Tourism Event and Festival Grant scheme will continue to encourage event organisers to consider South Dublin County and ‘Dublin’s Outdoors’ in which to hold their events, building on the ongoing success of the Red Line Book Festival, Flavours of South Dublin and other ongoing events. Moreover, opportunities flowing from the Destination Towns funding for Lucan, the Grand Canal Project, including the canal loop option, will be further explored and developed in 2021.
Enabling people to enjoy the arts in a safe way is also important. To this end, we will continue to work with the creative community to see how the arts can be enjoyed by all in our community.
Whilst the economy will continue to need support, the same is true for our citizens and communities. At the end of March, we established a Community Call Forum with stakeholders from across the public, community and voluntary sectors and the charity ALONE.
Since then we have provided a helpline to co-ordinate a response to those in need of social or practical supports because of their circumstances during the pandemic. This has included the delivery of food, groceries and medicines and other services to those who have needed them. We have also provided support for those experiencing isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, the helpline has received 2,239 calls and we have provided services including:
- Collection and delivery of food, essential household items, fuel and medication
- Signposting and referrals to other services including ALONE, Social Welfare, Meals on wheels and social isolation support etc.
- General information and advice on COVID 19 and government advice
- Over 2,000 outgoing check-in calls made to older and vulnerable persons
Our helpline remains open to those who need help, those who know someone who needs help, or those who want to volunteer and provide help.
The Community Call Helpline can be contacted at 1800 240 519
This new service is being provided alongside our regular day-to-day services that are offering people ways to relax, learn or be creative amidst the current challenges. During the period of the pandemic, the Council’s staff had to adapt to new ways of working whilst continuing to provide the wide range of services to the citizens without interruption e.g. parks services, road and housing maintenance, homeless services, supports for Travellers and much more.
Our library service is one example where local authorities had to adapt and be innovative. This year, due to restrictions such as the closure of our libraries for parts of the year, we introduced rapid changes to service delivery. We have promoted our eLibrary services like eBooks, audiobooks, online newspapers, magazines and e-learning courses, which all library members can access. We’ve rolled out a book delivery service, online streaming of storytime and a ‘click and collect’ service. Several library events were revamped and held online. Thankfully, as the year ends, most of our branches are open again for browsing and click and collect services.
Central to the Council’s work this year has been our elected members. They have worked hard with staff and different sectors such as the business community to produce solutions and supports for the times we’re in. They took difficult budgetary decisions after careful scrutiny of the options. Like all staff in the council, they too have had to adapt their work practices to keep the show on the road. Meetings with elected members can now be held online.
2021 will undoubtedly bring many challenges to the communities and businesses of South Dublin County. But it will also bring new opportunities for South Dublin County Council to work with businesses, organisations and communities to find new ways to protect our citizens and local economy, for the times we’re in, and beyond.