County Council’s Area Offices Are Under Incredible Pressure
County Council’s Area Offices Are Under Incredible Pressure Writes Leo McMahon
Cork County Council’s area offices are stretched beyond belief, declared Cllr. Seamus McGrath (FF) at the monthly meeting of Carrigaline-Ballincollig Municipal District (MD).
In a debate on a report about the €6.3 million budget for various works in the MD, the former county mayor said it was clear the reduction in staff numbers and resources in recent years, along with the ending of the Gateway Scheme and difficulty in some instances in getting people on to Tus and Community Employment Schemes was being felt not only in the MD but across the county.
Getting straightforward but important outdoor tasks carried out by area offices, such as erecting signs, clearing drains and cutting back overgrowth, were taking longer due to lack of bodies and resources and unless councillors raised the issue it wasn’t going to change, said Cllr. McGrath pointing out that it was already highlighted at a meeting of the Corporate Policy Group.
He proposed that the MD raise the issue with the chief executive of the council directly ahead of the council’s 2018 budget because he perceived a lack of priority being given to outdoor activities.
‘Area offices are stretched beyond belief with a huge number of requests are coming in. The highest percentage number of issues we get as councillors are passed on to area offices in Carrigaline and Ballincollig but the resources aren’t there to deal with these.’
Cllr Deirdre Forde (FG) concurred and suggested a motion also go to the full council. ‘We’ve raised this issue before but it seems to go into a black hole. This is the most important level of our work because if the people are satisfied, our job is half done. It means taking on board what they are looking for, getting a reply and getting it done but our officials needed more resources to examine and respond.’
Cllr. Eoghan Jeffers (SF) said the issue had previously been raised by his party because it was clear that staffing levels were at crisis point. The average age of existing outdoor workers in the MD was 54 while the council spending more money on outsourcing than direct employment. A priority in the next council budget had to be to recruit more people and he had a motion before the full council about it.
‘I’m continually blown away by the amount of work our area offices get through’, said Cllr. Marcia D’Alton (Ind), adding that Tidy Towns groups were doing some of the works the council staff simply couldn’t get around to tackling. Cathaoirleach Mary Rose Desmond (FF) concurred saying it was a testament to the offices the amount of work done with such huge demands.
Senior executive engineer Madeleine Healy acknowledged the frustrations of councillors. Obviously she would welcome an increase in staff but warned against unrealistic expectations, adding that along with the ten councillors in the MD, there was a huge volume of requests coming into area offices from nine TDs in two Cork constituencies and the general public directly.
Everybody deserved a response but getting out to the scene and reporting back took up a lot of time aside from day to day jobs an office organized itself. There had to be a balance because there was little point in having extra staff if the budget for capital works couldn’t meet this, she added. ‘We’re constantly under incredible pressure so any help we could get would be greatly appreciated because we want to get the work done,’ said Ms. Healy pointing out that there were many works which members and the public were not aware of which took up a huge amount of administrative resources on top of requests coming in.’
Councillors paid tribute to the area office staffs working at the coal face and concluding, Cllr. McGrath said he would draft the wording of a letter for sending to the chief executive aimed at ensuring the area offices got a level of prioritization in terms of resource allocation not received up to now. It was also agreed to have the issue on the agenda for the September meeting.