BUSINESS DIFFICULTIES

18 April 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

“It is a bloodbath on the high street at the present time,” the Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Town Council Seamus Treanor stated this week in reference to the enormous pressures being faced by business and industry to remain viable.

Colr Treanor’s picturesque image does convey the gravity of the situation confronting many employers in our county – although the explicitness of the metaphor obscures the fact that the extent of the difficulties that businesses struggle to cope with on a day-to-day basis usually remains hidden from public view.

The seriousness of particular situations is often only grasped too late, when problems reach critical mass and a door is closed on an evening’s business never to reopen again.

A particularly sad addition to the casualty list of the current recession has been the name of Rossmore Furniture in Monaghan Town, which announced closure this week.

One of the trailblazers of the success story written by the county’s furniture industry and once a substantial local employer, the company’s fate has mirrored the steady decline of a sector that has suffered greatly from adverse market developments.

The threat to the furniture industry in our region and nationwide was loudly and eloquently articulated from within its ranks at a time when the problems were still at inception stage and could conceivably, with a strong and co-ordinated support response from Government and State agencies, have been mitigated.

The response never came – and an important dimension of Irish employment of particular significance to our county was chronically enfeebled as a result.

The factors which robbed furniture producers of vital export markets were perhaps ultimately beyond the capacity of national policy to address – but the high cost of doing business in this country is not, and it should be noted that this was one of the reasons cited by Rossmore Furniture this week for taking the difficult decision to cease operation.

Local employers across the retail, manufacturing and service sectors of Co Monaghan will all sympathise because all are struggling with the same formidable impediment to survival.

There has been much renewed local political debate of late about the rationale of the system of rates levied by local authorities on commercial premises.

Evidence of the extent of rates arrears in the Monaghan Town area which emerged at Monday’s Council meeting shows how burdensome this obligation is proving for businesses – although a deeper assessment of the figures, and the comments of Town Manager Declan Nelson, also discloses a reasonableness and flexibility of approach on the part of local authorities to be accommodating of businesses in genuine difficulty.

There is a view in the commercial and business sector that Co and Town Councils could do more in this regard to help the local economy.

Rates are in some instances penal, but it is difficult to see how local authorities in this county, who depend on the income to help sustain their own services, can do much more at the present time than strive to hold the rate on valuation to its existing level, as has been the Budgetary practice of recent times.

Significant reductions in rates do not seem realistic in the context of the tight financial parameters that Councils are compelled to operate – and it should be remembered that while local authorities have the power to set or determine the rate, the valuation system itself is not determined at local level but governed nationally along an antiquated system currently undergoing a very cumbersome and very long overdue review.

It will take some years yet before the Valuation Office gets around to reforming the assessments in place for Co Monaghan – much too late for businesses currently at the pin of their collar, and a ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ response to the enormity of the current economic malaise.

An opportunity for the Government to address the rates issue head-on was presented by the “Putting People First” document on local government reform – yet the chapter in this opus dealing with local government funding contains scant reference to them.

Commercial rates currently account for only 30% of local authority revenue sources, but remain the single biggest source of income, almost twice that of the Local Government Fund.

An argument of disproportion could be mounted in this respect at the best of times – surely in the current precarious business environment Minister Phil Hogan cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the appeals local authorities themselves as well as ratepayers are making for a fundamental overhaul of this system?

Rates are by no means the only burden that employers are struggling to bear at the present time, and we are not suggesting that they entirely of themselves compel job losses and business closures.

But some form of rates reform – and rates relief – must surely be a part of any meaningful response to the pressing question of how the economy is going to be regenerated.

MARCHING IN STEP

The timing of the opening of the latest exhibition to grace the gallery of Monaghan Co Museum, Walking The Colours, on Wednesday last invites an attribution of significance.

It was presumably unintended that the display, which explores the rich and varied cultural tradition of parades, processions and marches in this county and Border region, should open so close to the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Yet the content of this important presentation reflects an aspiration towards conciliation and better understanding between the cultural traditions sharing this island that was immediately topical as well as enduringly relevant.

People of common purpose have been marching together behind a symbol of identity probably since human beings first engaged in social organisation – and the perpetuation of the practice, its compulsion for participants and observers, to the present day communicates something fundamental about mankind.

In our own part of the world, parades and marches are often contentious things, precious to some, provocative to others.

Consequently the rich history and regalia of these traditions have tended not to be celebrated or shared outside of their perceived ‘ownership’.

Monaghan Co Museum have brought down the consequent barriers to understanding in a very accessible and educative way, in the process putting on public display some of the treasures of their own collection as well as many items generously loaned by the public.

We encourage as many of our readers who can to visit this celebration of a vibrant dimension of our shared history and culture.

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