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Seven struggling Northern Ireland councils furlough nearly 2,000 staff


Concerns: Nipsa’s Alison Millar

Concerns: Nipsa’s Alison Millar

Concerns: Nipsa’s Alison Millar

Nearly 2,000 council staff are being furloughed in Northern Ireland ­and hundreds more face temporary lay-offs.

Seven local authorities have confirmed they will use the Government scheme for around 1,800 workers, as their umbrella body warns some could go to the wall without financial support.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is furloughing 375 workers, the highest number of the local authorities to have finalised a figure, followed by Mid Ulster District Council with 365.

Two of our largest local authorities - Belfast and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councils - are yet to make a decision.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said it had not yet finalised the number but an officer told a council meeting on May 14 as many as 300 staff could be furloughed.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is also yet to land on a final figure. Ards and North Down Borough Council will furlough about 350.

Derry City and Strabane and Fermanagh and Omagh District Councils will each furlough about 200. Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will temporarily lay off 252, and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council 61. Of those councils, some are still negotiating with unions whether to top up workers' wages.

Alison Millar, Nipsa's general secretary, said one was proposing to furlough staff on 80% of their normal salary.

She added: "While Nipsa obviously welcomes the decision by the Communities Minister [Deirdre Hargey] to ensure that councils could furlough workers under the scheme, we have concerns that some jobs may be at risk in the short to medium-term. It's imperative that all councils are proposing to furlough their workers must do so on the basis that they will fund the additional 20%.

"This is significant issue as some of these workers are on the national minimum wage."

Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors voted on May 14 to furlough 375 workers on full pay until May 19, when they will be paid at the Government rate of 80%. The council said it was losing £665,000 each month and faced a £15.6m shortfall this financial year. Of the 46 staff the council had considered making redundant, 28 will now be furloughed.

SDLP councillor Ryan Wilson said the decision had spared the council from making hundreds of redundancies, but he was disappointed staff wouldn't have their pay topped up, as other councils had done.

He added: "The council is clearly under financial pressure and the Minister for Communities must make additional funding available to ensure ratepayers do not bear this burden, either by a large increase of rates or a depletion of services."

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council said it expected to lose about £10m this financial year, but had no plans to cut back services.

It added: "To be in a position to sustain service levels into the future and emerge with a feasible long-term plan for economic recovery, greater financial assistance from central government will be required."

Meanwhile, Mid Ulster District Council said furloughing just over a third of its workforce would reduce April losses from £620,000 to just over £400,000.

Solace NI, the body of council chief executives, warned last week that local authorities here could run out of cash for staff and suppliers within months if they did not get the support they needed.

Belfast Telegraph