Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Council staff paid £500,000 for working anti-social hours

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

More than half a million pounds has been paid in overtime to staff at two of Belfast City Council’s premier entertainment complexes for working anti-social hours, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Contractual arrangements mean frontline employees such as duty officers, events co-ordinators and venue attendants at the Waterfront and Ulster Halls have been able to top up their salaries with extra payments for working evenings and weekends — when both venues are at their busiest.

A total of £500,800.14 of ratepayers’ cash has been shelled out on overtime payments since 2008 with the highest sum — £207,144.13 — being generated during the 2009/10 financial year.

During 2008/09, the figure reached £154,012.30. However during the last financial year, 2010/11, the payments fell to £139,643.71.

“It is incredible that archaic contracts entitle staff to overtime in a concert venue,” said DUP councillor Gavin Robinson. “The very nature of the job requires work outside normal office hours.

“Scores of people would be happy to take jobs at an appropriate rate without expecting such an overtime premium. We will have to regularise this situation if we are ever going to make these venues a viable success.”

The figures were obtained using a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper.

Both the Waterfront and Ulster Halls are funded by Belfast City Council with almost £7.1m being used to subsidise the facilities in the past three years.

According to estimated expenditure from the council's development committee, both venues set ratepayers back more than £2.4m last year, and are expected to cost £2.5m over the next 12 months.

The council employs the equivalent of 55.5 full-time staff across both venues. The highest earners are the Head of City Events, whose pay scale ranges from £56,755 to £67,565, and the Operations Manager whose salary is between £46,158 and £49,043. Most other salaries are between £20,000 and £30,000 while the lowest paid workers include housekeepers who take home a wage of between £13,027 and £14,587 and communication outreach workers who earn between £14,891 and £15,895.

The Waterfront Hall was built in 1997 and was the catalyst for the regeneration of Lanyon Place, which is now home to the Hilton Hotel, BT, Santander and Allstate among others.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a £20m extension to the Waterfront Hall is to be the jewel in the crown of a multi-million pound stimulus package being rolled out by the city council over the next three years.

The plan is to give the complex a new lease of life as an international convention and exhibition centre which City Hall chiefs hope will compete with facilities in other major European cities.

Opponents of the plan believe the council has fulfilled its ambition of stimulating development in the Laganside area and that the concert venue should be sold to the private sector as a “going concern” in a bid to save cash.

Meanwhile, in a report presented to the council last summer, the Director of Client Services noted: “Overtime working was often required to cover events which took place in the Ulster Hall and the Waterfront Hall and pointed out that the costs associated therewith were, in many instances, met by event promoters.” The director also said that the preferred way of reducing overtime costs would be to establish more flexible working arrangements for staff at both venues.

Belfast City Council has not had any formal recruitment freeze, however sources in the council have said officials have been ‘monitoring vacancies’, meaning some staff are not being replaced if they leave.

Background

Last year this paper revealed that Belfast City Council — which employs 2,400 people and has an annual budget of £140m — had spent more than £40m on overtime and outside services in four years.

The figure includes £20.8m spent on agency workers and recruitment agencies to plug temporary shortages, seasonal demands and short-term assignments, and £18m went towards overtime payments across all departments.

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