Chambers disappointed with bushfire recovery funds.
Chambers disappointed with bushfire recovery funds.

Chambers disappointed with bushfire recovery funds

THE recovery from bushfires in the Bellingen Shire has been a struggle with business activity down and youth unemployment on the rise.

The three Chambers of Commerce in the shire representing businesses across the shire – the Urunga Mylestom Chamber of Commerce, Bellingen Chamber and Dorrigo Chamber, are disappointed local businesses were largely overlooked in Bellingen Shire Council’s division of the $1.2 million of Federal Government bushfire recovery funds.

The three chambers issued a release stating since the bushfires, business activity has been down an estimated 40%, with an accompanying rise in youth unemployment.

They believe the consultation process around the allocation of funds has exposed flaws in community consultation that do not bode well if future funding is to be administered by Council (e.g. COVID 19 virus recovery funding).

The three Chambers shared the belief that a portion of these funds should be allocated to assisting community recovery through local economic stimulus measures.

“We acknowledge that events have been overtaken by the COVID 19 virus crisis but important principles are at stake,” the release said.

In February, Bellingen Shire Council began consultation, engaging with the Chambers, community groups and emergency service workers.

A separate panel of 26 ‘representatives’ was established to determine community priorities. The composition of this group is not disclosed in the Council business papers.

The Chambers question the composition and size of this group, given it was used as sole justification for the proposed program of works.

The Chambers’ submissions to support jobs and business were ultimately made irrelevant by the emerging pandemic crisis.

However, the Chambers were prevented from providing new submissions.

Their original submissions were still attached to the business papers for the extraordinary council meeting held via video conference on the April, 3 2020.

Some Councillors afterwards expressed their dismay that the Chambers were proposing simulating the economy in a pandemic.

“It is disappointing that Council processes were inflexible, and that Councillors were consequently misinformed as to our intent.

“The Chambers understand that the video conferencing was an entirely new process for Council; what we do not understand is:

1. Why the business papers were unavailable on the website until 24 hours before the extraordinary council meeting, when the normal process is for business papers to be available five days before a council meeting;

2. Why Chambers were prevented from presenting their deputation in person via the digital platform that was used for the extraordinary council meeting;

3. Why the Chambers were given a deadline of midday the day before the extraordinary council meeting to submit their deputation in writing, despite not having access to the business papers at that time; and

4. Why there was no audio available on the live video stream of the extraordinary meeting.

The Chambers are disappointed that only $145,000 has been allocated to economic recovery and $120,000 to infrastructure investment.

“The Chambers are concerned at the lack of detail on how the large amounts allocated to the Resilience Hub ($365,000), the Resilience Disaster Response (Pilot) ($225.000), the Vegetation Report ($90,000) will be spent.

“Chambers expect to have a say in the allocation of the funds allocated to economic recovery.

“We believe it is important for Council to engage with the Bellingen Shire Chambers of Commerce in a genuine consultation process, to determine how the economic recovery allocation will be spent.”

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