Council staff will not face the sack this Christmas

THE council looks set to deliver some much-needed Christmas cheer to its army of workers with ambitious plans to streamline staff without resorting to compulsory redundancies.

COVID-19 has ravaged council finances, forcing an unprecedented contraction in revenue - and compelling top brass to take some difficult decisions to balance the books.

Without urgent action, insiders say that the situation was, at best, precarious.

And it was not unique to Antrim and Newtownabbey.

With money not going through the tills it had to be clawed back elsewhere, and that could have potentially hit ratepayers hard.

At one point, there was the very real prospect of an increase of 25 per cent or more.

Determined not to hit locals hard at a time when many families are already buckling under the financial strain, they looked to other options.

Back in July they agreed ‘reluctantly’ a raft of measures to reduce expenditure in relation to capital projects and spending.

And then there was the question of staff. At the height of the pandemic they warned that jobs would inevitably go, before Stormont intervened and ruled that councils could take advantage of the furlough scheme - and 270 localworkers duly did.

It offered a welcome respite, but the problem had not gone away.

A staffing review concluded that 100 full time posts had to go - though 32 vacancies reduced that to 68.

That reduction would generate savings in the region of £3.3 million - a significant lifeline by any standard.

But rather than embarking on a jobs cull, they opted instead on a voluntary severance scheme.

Working closely with trade unions plans were also drawn up to re-deploy existing workers.

Severance packages were approved for some staff back in September and since then more have come forward.

Those volunteers, along with several more vacancies, could mean that no compulsory redundancies will now be sought.

Thanks to the intervention of the unions, staff redeployed to lower paid posts look set to receive a ‘cushion’ to allow them to make financial adjustments.

Workers forced to work in a different location will also receive excess mileage.

Still a bitter pill for many, of course, but insiders agree that it could have been ‘much, much worse’.

Things are changing, but it seems many families are now facing the New Year without fear.

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