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Mid Ulster Council confirms 140 staff currently furloughed due to pandemic

Mid Ulster District Council has confirmed 140 of its staff are furloughed at present.

It is estimated this measure is allowing Council to offset its monthly losses as a result of Covid-19 by approximately 15 per cent.

While the number of council staff on furlough varies, in December of last year, Council was able to offset its losses of £620,000 per month by £93,000.

Given the nature of this pandemic, a spokesperson confirmed Council may add to the number of staff currently on furlough but ruled out making any redundancies or layoffs as a result of the current situation.

“Furloughing further staff remains an option,” a Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“However, any further decision will be dependent on service need, redeployment opportunities and the impact of any changes to the coronavirus health regulations.

“The Council currently has no plans to make staff redundant as a result of the pandemic and will be returning staff to work when restrictions ease and affected services and facilities are in a position to resume.”

Last May, Council confirmed it had furloughed 365 of its 1,092 staff. This was estimated to be offsetting Council’s losses by £200,200 per month.

All staff were returned to work by the end of August 2020 when suspended facilities and services had resumed.

At the time, it is understood Council was also paying furloughed staff the 20 per cent of their salary they would have missed out on as the furlough scheme covers 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500.

However, this time round, Council is asking staff to take 20 per cent of their accrued annual leave to receive the 20 per cent ‘top up’.

“On this occasion, staff were offered redeployment opportunities or had the option to receive the 80 per cent furlough payment and then to use 20 per cent accrued annual leave,” confirmed a Council spokesperson.

“This option equates to 100 per cent pay and addresses the issue of financial detriment.

“The ‘top up’ this time is via the use of paid annual leave. This option reflects the fact that furloughing was introduced close to the end of the annual leave year (March 2021).

“It means staff will not lose leave or be left carrying over excessive amounts of leave into the new year which would potentially have a negative impact on our service delivery.”

Meanwhile, the issue of staff furlough was discussed at a meeting of Council’s development committee.

Addressing the matter, Councillor Walter Cuddy asked if Council had offered the use of its furloughed staff to other organisations.

“I am aware this issue was discussed in the confidential section of the policy and resources committee,” said Councillor Cuddy.

“Kim Ashton asked at that meeting if we had offered any of our services to the Trusts and I think it was confirmed we had but nothing has been taken up as of yet.

“We do have an untapped wealth of staff and I thought it was a good question and it got me thinking, especially as the First and Deputy First Minister are now making their speeches from Dungannon.

“There is a chance here we should avail of to see if we can use our staff, who are perhaps under utilised at the moment, to see if we can help in some way.

“I thought with the untapped potential we have at present, I wanted to put the idea forward.”

Speaking after the meeting Councillor Ashton confirmed she had raised the issue with officers and praised Council’s senior management team for their efforts during this crisis.

“We are all aware of the severe pressures the health service is under at present and I know some of our staff helped out during the first lockdown,” said Councillor Ashton.

I am proud that our staff were offered to the Trusts to help with frontline pressures. We want to say that we are here for them.

“The Council’s senior management team are first class and they have already extended the hand of friendship to the Trusts and credit where it is due, our staff are working very hard under immense pressure at present.

“Everyone is doing everything they can to ensure are resources are being utilised to their maximum potential.”

A spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed it was aware Council staff could be called upon if required.

“We are continuing to liaise with local councils at this very challenging stage in the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said a spokesperson for the Trust.

“We are aware that councils are available to provide support if required.”

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