Useful meeting this morning (Wednesday 25 November) with DFC Minister re concerns around services and jobs impacted by Covid.
The NIPSA Local Government Panel, Peter Boyle Chairperson, Alanagh Rea Vice Chairperson and myself met with the Department for Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín to discuss issues arising in respect of Local Councils and the Save Services Save Jobs campaign.
The minister gave some welcome reassurances around securing the engagement of local council services and staff impacted by the pandemic and stated there should be no compulsory redundancies.
In respect of local councils reviewing Redundancy Or Voluntary Severance Policies the minister agreed that this should be a regional approach to ensure fairness and equity across the sector and would be writing to relevant parties to ascertain why there has been changes to the RPA rate.
NIPSA identified the concerns arising from the impact of the Pandemic upon Local Council Services and income generation streams with the result of which was to see the suspension of these services and hundreds of employee’s placed on Furlough.
NIPSA identified real concerns for members in respect of the long term impact and whether these Jobs and Services would return given the impact upon Council Budgets which for this year appear to be have been supported by the Government subsidies however real concerns exist for next year and post Covid recovery.
The Minister’s response was to recognise these concerns however expressed that her department had provided additional monies to Councils which included conditions and one of which was that they protected the Jobs and Conditions of employees and she expected to see to see these return appropriately stating, Covid was not an excuse for getting rid of staff.
In respect of future concerns re council budgets the Minister acknowledged these and some suggestions in relation to large rate rises stating that these were not a realistic option.
NIPSA reinforced concerns around the post code lottery created by some councils who had sought to review and reduce Redundancy/Voluntary Severance Policies and referred to the inequalities of previous high value Senior management packages under the RPA scheme and the significantly reduced packages being offered to front line, low paid staff today.
The Minister acknowledged the concerns and reiterated her view that there should be one approach to redundancy for the 11 councils and she would be writing to appropriate bodies such as NILGA, SOLACE and the LRA to reinforce this point and seek answers where Councils are seeking to reduce the previously agreed RPA rate of 3.46%.
NIPSA further raised concerns at the lack of respect demonstrated in the media with regards to the recent report on sickness absence. NIPSA reinforced the key work of NIPSA members across Councils in responding to the Pandemic and gave examples of the ongoing commitment of members to specific projects etc.
The Minister advised she was aware of the good work going on in councils through the Pandemic and had seen this first-hand. NIPSA further expressed concern at media reports in relation to sickness absence which lacked any real analysis behind the statistics particular in regards to other parts of the UK who reported absences due to disability related illness differently.
The Minister expressed awareness regarding the report on councils' sickness absence and acknowledged NIPSA’s concerns.