QUESTIONS are still being asked after Ards and North Down Council outraged business owners by telling locals not to shop for a month.

Last week, the council came out in favour of a campaign to cut back on purchases, posting on its official social media that people across the borough should ‘join the Buy Nothing New challenge today’.

The council endorsed the month-long challenge as ‘a New Year’s resolution that makes a lasting impact’ by reducing rubbish and saving money – something that appalled traders who had just started their January sales.

Encouraging people to join in with Buy Nothing New Month, the council posted the campaign’s graphics as well as linking to its website.

Officials hurriedly deleted that messaging after a massive outcry from local businesses, while councillors complained that they hadn’t been asked whether or not they wanted to back the campaign before support was posted to council social media.

But questions continue to be asked about why the local authority came out in favour of the Buy Nothing challenge in the first place, with many traders left feeling the council doesn’t support them – or, at the very least, isn’t thinking about their needs during a tough economy.

Buy Nothing New Month is a drive by environmental campaign group Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB), which argues that reducing household purchases would result in less packaging being thrown away as waste, and fewer old items dumped in landfill.

KNIB says the challenge is aimed at getting people to consider whether they could reuse or repair clothing or household items, instead of throwing them in the bin to purchase something new.

The campaign group states that it wants individuals, families and community groups to join in.

But that leaves the question of why an arm of local government that collects tax from local businesses should so enthusiastically advise the 160,000 people of this borough to drop their shopping trips for an entire month.

The point is particularly sharp as the council did it without consulting anyone, neither store owners nor the politicians who sit on the local authority.

Councillors have complained that they weren’t given a chance to vote on whether or not to back the KNIB campaign, stating that they were just as surprised by the council’s support of it as local business owners.

One politician – Ards Peninsula councillor David Kerr, who is also a shopkeeper – stated: “As a small business owner myself, I cannot support this post [from] the council.

“We need to be going out of our way supporting all the local businesses in our area this January, which is the hardest month’s trading for us all.”

Bangor Central councillor Alistair Cathcart reinforced that backing the KNIB campaign wasn’t properly a council decision, stating: “It was not brought before councillors.”

Branding the social media post ‘embarrassing’, Mr Cathcart claimed the actions of officials had damaged the council’s relationship with traders across the borough.

“These businesses pay good rates and they should have the council supporting them, not seeming to undermine them,” he said. “It is being investigated why this Facebook post was published and it must be ensured that nothing like this can happen again.”

For Bangor East and Donaghadee councillor Janice MacArthur, the council would have been better off mounting a ‘shop local’ campaign, similar to one staged during the Covid pandemic.

“It is possible to shop local and be sustainable should you wish to do so,” she said, “but first and foremost, local businesses require our utmost support, especially in January and February.”

Councillor Wesley Irvine said he wanted to ‘totally disassociate’ himself from the council’s messaging in support of the Buy Nothing New campaign.

“It doesn’t make sense for the council to on the one hand support buy local campaigns and on the other hand encourage residents to stay away from shops,” said the Bangor Central politician.

“I know a lot of businesses were angered and disappointed that the council endorsed this message and I understand where they are coming from. The fact the post was swiftly removed following complaints shows it was ill-thought-out to post it in the first place.”