Councillors concerned services suffering as result of staff vacancies

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Adam Morton

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Local Democracy Reporter

Councillors on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council are to receive a report in April detailing the number of staff vacancies in Council.

The report was requested by DUP councillor Darryn Caubsy who made a proposal seconded by his party’s group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter, following frustrations expressed by a number of councillors at March’s monthly meeting of the local authority.

Having listened to a number of elected representatives from across the chamber express a number of concerns at the meeting held on Monday, March 25, DUP councillor Darryn Causby expressed his frustrations while his party’s group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter claimed ratepayers are no longer getting the service they are paying for.

Telling the chamber he was growing frustrated at what feels like “painfully slow progress”, Cllr Causby said he is now of the view these frustrations need to be expressed publicly as it is “obvious” attempting to deal with it behind the scenes is no longer working.

“Information was requested as far back as December 8, in a meeting of the governance, resources and strategy committee. It was a formal proposal, seconded at committee and ratified through Council and then somehow it has been missed by officers and councillors are still, three months on, waiting on information they requested from Council,” said Cllr Causby.

“That seems to be where we are at now and listening to other concerns raised tonight, my question is what are the current vacancy levels in this organisation?

“Staff are light on the ground, whether its bins, parks, cemeteries, community centres, I don’t care. Where are the vacancies across this Council by department and what is the time scale for filling posts.

“If a department head decides we need three people and puts it out to recruit what is the timescale for turning that around from advertising to appointment because some of these things seem to take an age?”

He continued: “I pay rates and raise my family in this borough and we are here because we want the Council to do well but sometimes it feels so deadly slow that all we do is fight an uphill battle.

“I am tired, if I am honest, fighting about it. I am going to resolve myself to raise this issue every month in this chamber, in public, as it is obvious we cannot get it done behind the scenes any more.”

In response to these comments, Council’s strategic director of strategy and performance Sharon McNicholl assured Cllr Causby the information would be provided to members at the appropriate committee in April.

“With regards to the update about structures and the timescales for that change that is not a problem we will bring an update to committee and bring further detail to a subsequent meeting,” said Ms McNicholl.

“In terms of the process for that, there is a protocol that has been agreed with the unions and in light of that we would want to keep that on track and not potentially vary the terms and conditions around which we are doing that.

“That process is completed by December by this year and I hope you will be reassured when we bring the paper to you about what is happening there and that things are moving on.

“In terms of vacancy levels and what they are across the various sectors, when HR get requisitions through those are advertised on a regular basis and everything is expedited to get people in as quickly as they can.”

She continued: “Recently, there has been a couple of different ways to do that which have been quite successful and that is something that is going to be built on and is going to be more and more of a regular occurrence.

“There is a challenge of labour supply in the market but it doesn’t mean we are not trying everyday to do our best around that and we recognise it is urgent.

“People are the most important asset we have, they are essential to everything we do, we want to invest in them, keep them happy and keep people productive and value them.”

DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter said that at present, the borough’s rate payers are not getting the services they pay for and asked if Council had a back-up plan in place for times of crisis?

”People are paying for simple services, they are not getting them,” he said.

“We probably don’t have the staff at present but what is the back up plan, do we use agency staff, we are in a seriously bad position at the minute and we really need to focus on the services that matter to the rate payer.

“They are paying all our wages and paying for a service that at the minute, they are not getting.”

Council’s Lord Mayor drew the discussion to a close by telling the chamber he agreed with Councillors Baxter and Causby and said it was clear Council needs to “fix the hole in the bucket rather than keep pouring in to it”.

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