Covid recovery: Antrim and Newtownabbey Council lost 100 jobs during pandemic

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has lost almost 100 jobs as a result of the Covid pandemic, according to a final update presented to members recently.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 10:11 am

The report stated that the “staffing headcount” had reduced by 96 overall through a  cost-cutting” staff reduction exercise”.

Of these, 36 were achieved by “not filling non-essential posts”and four through resignations and retirements.

It was estimated that the job losses will result in a saving to the local authority of £2.5m annually at an initial cost of £1.6m.

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Antrim Civic Centre

Eleven staff members have been redeployed into alternative posts and a further four were expected to switch to alternative duties.

The authority has asked the Department for Communities to “capitalise” this cost meaning it can be “written off” during the next four years and it is now expected that recruitment will commence to fill any “outstanding vacancies”.

Councillors have also been reminded that a “number of uncertainties will impact upon council finances”.

A further report has outlined areas of concern with the authority’s financial position kept under review.

Mossley Mill

Furlough arrangements are planned to continue until September 2021 although staff will be brought back as services reopen but income from services such as leisure, building control, arts and culture and planning is not expected to return to pre-Covid levels “for some time”.

It was initially anticipated that this loss would be compensated by the Department for Communities but this is to be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Despite an announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy that £150m business rates relief will be made available, the authority says that it is “unclear” how it will impact on non-domestic rates income in the borough.

Antrim SDLP Councillor Roisin Lynch has acknowledged previously that 73  local authority’s workers had “taken the brunt” when compulsory redundancies may have been necessary otherwise and described a recent decision by members to award themselves a pay rise as “unjustifiable”.

A spokesperson for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: “The council’s financial situation as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic was eased by the financial assistance received from central government and the government’s Temporary Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme.

“This was following a period of concerted lobbying by local government to obtain access to funding streams to compensate for lost income and additional costs incurred as a result of Covid-19.

“The impact of this income combined with the Voluntary Severance Scheme and other efficiencies and cost saving measures meant that there were no compulsory redundancies.

“Working in partnership with the trade unions, the council offered an enhanced package for staff who wished to be considered for voluntary severance. To date, 40 staff have availed of the Voluntary Severance Scheme.

“The council is now in a much stronger position than it was last year, and has high ambitions for the Borough, as set out in its recently published Corporate Recovery Plan.”

Meanwhile, Glengormley Sinn Fein Councillor Michael Goodman has been commenting on social media on a recent decision by the local authority to award councillors a pay rise.

In a statement, Cllr Goodman said: “We had moved to defer the pay rise for a year which seemed a reasonable and sensible idea at this time.  However, our motion was defeated unfortunately for us and the ratepayers of Antrim and Newtownabbey area.

“It is now up to those who voted themselves a pay rise to explain themselves to the people that elect them and during a time of great personal sacrifice and hardship for many. I’d imagine those parties would have their work cut out for them.”

The pay rise recommendation was then approved by 24 in favour, nine against and an abstention from the new Deputy Mayor Cllrr Stephen Ross. The new Mayor, Cllr Billy Webb, was not present at the meeting.

The Mayor will receive the biggest hike in payment. A special responsibility allowance of £13,797 looks set to rise to £21,000 next June. The Deputy Mayor’s allowance will increase from £9,021 to £10,500.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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Click here to read: Antrim and Newtownabbey Council’s nett worth £92.3m

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