NIPSA Local Government Panel Officers met with the Department for Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey on the 18th May to follow up on concerns raised at their previous meeting on the 25th November 2020. NIPSA outlined the concerns of members arising during the Coronavirus Pandemic in regards to Local Councils citing difficulties in respect of Budgets as a rationale to reduce Jobs and Services.
NIPSA referred the Minister to concerns around Councils attempting to reduce the workforce via redundancy or voluntary severance and referenced the specific negotiations being undertaken across Council’s which was resulting in a postcode lottery in respect of new policies and rates applied following the ending of the regionally agreed RPA rate.
NIPSA referred the Minister to her colleagues to previous correspondence to both SOLACE and NILGA with regards to supporting regional negotiating arrangements which to date have failed to be reintroduced and asked if she has received any response.
The Minister advised that to date she has had no response and cited the timeline from November as having provided every opportunity and stated she would be further corresponding to ascertain why no response or progress has been provided to date.
The Minister further outlined that to date £85.3 Million has been allocated to Councils with the expectation of retaining jobs and services and her expectation is that there should be no reductions and gave a further commitment to correspond with Councils to ascertain whether this position has changed.
The Minister added that of the 85.3 Million allocated she was aware that 49.5 Million was spent on Covid support while 35.8 Million had been put into Council reserves. In regards to moving forwards and further opportunities arising the Minister referred to the potential to extend functions to Local Councils around areas such as City Centre regeneration.
NIPSA paid tribute to the Local Government workers who have been at the forefront of providing essential services to the Public and Local Communities throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic and raised the issue of Recognition and Reward for their contribution particularly in light of the payment to Health Workers.
The Minister acknowledged and praised the commitment and contribution of the Local Government Workers and in general was supportive of recognising this however she pointed to ongoing difficulties around the payment in Health which was being viewed as an enhancement in salary and therefore taxable which then led to implications for low paid workers receiving benefits etc. The Minister advised that she was open to looking at whether monetary reward or additional leave/time off would be feasible but to date had not received any proposals from Councils but if received she would be more than happy to look at these.
NIPSA then raised the ongoing issue of Privatisation across Councils and referenced the additional issues arising during Covid which highlighted the need to keep services public and for Councils to retain or reclaim these services post Covid. Specific reference was given to recent developments in Leisure and in Belfast City Council regarding Malone House.
Another issue raised was the failing to consult and negotiate in advance of key issues.
The Minister acknowledged the issues raised and agreed to look into all of them and report back to NIPSA on responses received or at a further meeting in August 2021."