THE embargo on recruiting staff is being used as a means to deplete Clare County Council’s ability to deliver services and “to make the council worker extinct”, it was claimed at this week’s meeting of the local authority.
Councillor Gerry Flynn put forward a motion asking for an explanation regarding “the rationale behind the employment of outside contractors to carry out improvements to wastewater and water schemes, in spite of the fact that Clare County Council have directly employed staff in this area”.
In his written reply to the motion, director of services Ger Dollard divided the response into four sections.
In relation to the water services investment programme works and other works of similar size and nature, he stated, “The size and nature of these works mean that the option of direct labour is not realistic. Each such project requires a major concentration of resources over a relatively short period of time, which is generally the way that contractors are geared to work.
“Without guaranteed continuity of work, it would not be justified for the council to directly employ the staff and carry the machinery and other resources required over the long term.”
In relation to small schemes and other small individual projects, he stated that much, but not all, of this work is done by direct labour.
“The council carries out many of these jobs by direct labour – particularly those comprising mains-laying and other improvements to water and wastewater networks. Because of retirements over recent years and the recruitment embargo, the ability to maintain crews to work on these projects has diminished and some of our areas are in a better position than others.
“However, it is our practice to carry out as much of this kind of work as possible employing our own staff, insofar as dwindling numbers and the needs of other work allow.”
With regard to water conservation work, leak detection and installation of district meters, he said council staff are quite active.
“Leak detection work is done practically 100% by our own specialised crews in the water conservation team. Installation of district meters was a specific programme which was carried out partly by our own staff and partly by contractors.” He stated the need to use contractors was the result of overall reductions in staff numbers.
Finally, in relation to day-to-day maintenance work, he stated most of it is done by council staff but with fewer staff employed, some work is done by outside contractors.
“The decision whether to have the job done by our own staff or to employ a contractor has to be made by the respective area engineers and supervisors for each individual job.”
Speaking in relation to Mr Dollard’s reply, Councillor Flynn said it is interesting there wasn’t any cost comparison included.
“This is very, very serious and it’s not so long ago that frontline workers were hailed as heroes in the winter of 2009/10, who went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Councillor Flynn said the way the council is going, it will end up without frontline staff and will “be dependent on contractors to deliver a service whether they have an allegiance to the county or not”.
He said the council’s current policy is crippling its ability to deliver services and that the existing embargo is being used to make “the council worker extinct”.
Councillor Christy Curtin said when leadership is provided, Clare County Council workers have shown that they will respond.