Furloughing could save £50k per week

Furloughing could save £50k per week

20 May 2020

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council is continuing to insist that it does not yet know how many staff it will place on the coronavirus job retention scheme.

The Recorder revealed last week that upwards of 200 staff could be furloughed as a result of the global pandemic, but the local authority says it does not yet know how employees will be affected.

It is believed that furloughing several hundred staff would save the organisation in the region of £200,000 a month, with suggestions that the organisation is currently experiencing monthly losses of up to four times this amount due to a significant loss in income.

While a number of local authorities have confirmed how many staff they have furloughed, Newry, Mourne and Down Council — the third largest in Northern Ireland — says it is not yet in a position to confirm how many of its employees will be placed on the jobs scheme which was last week extended until October.

It is understood that the local council plans to utilise the scheme with the majority of affected employees working in leisure centres, museums and arts, tourism and community facilities across the district.

All these facilities have been closed since mid March as a result of the lockdown.

The Recorder posed a series of questions to the council about the imminent furloughing of staff including asking what is the current position, has the number of staff to be furloughed been decided and have they been informed, when will the council be in a position to confirm numbers and have trade unions been consulted?

The Recorder also asked if the local authority would be topping up the wages of staff placed on furlough as they would only be paid 80% of their monthly pay.

In its response, the organisation would only confirm that it will make use of the job retention scheme but does not yet know how many employees will be affected.

Last week, Antrim and Newtownabbey Council agreed to furlough more than 300 of its 650-strong workforce, while last month, Antrim and Newtownabbey Council deferred a decision to cut jobs to help balance its budget. Mid Ulster Council has furloughed almost 40% of its staff.

The impact of coronavirus is impacting on the finances of all Northern Ireland’s 11 councils with suggestions that some may require direct support from central government to avoid becoming insolvent.

While Newry, Mourne and Down Council is continuing to maintain essential frontline services, including refuse collection and street cleansing many, including leisure and community services, have been suspended as a result of the pandemic.

There are also fears that these particular services are unlikely to resume until after final stage of the Stormont Executive’s recovery plan is implemented, with the difficulty that there is no timeframe in place at this stage.

David Jackson, chair of Solace NI, the body of chief executives who oversee Northern Ireland’s councils, said there was a “tight timeframe” to get support to councils.

He said that in the near future, some councils will either move into technical insolvency or will have to take quite severe measures to maintain essential provision.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) — the umbrella body for the Province’s 11 councils — last week warned of a “cash crisis” for local councils as a result of the pandemic.

A Newry, Mourne and Down Council spokesman would only confirm that the organisation will make use of the coronavirus job retention scheme for employees who work in services where there is loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic and who cannot be redeployed to do other work. 

“This falls in line with guidance from the Department for Communities,” the spokesman continued.

“At the moment, it is not yet known how many employees will be affected.”