Derry City Council services have been threatened with industrial action by workers angry at restructuring proposals. The council is to seek voluntary redundancies.
A confidential report presented to the council this week – written by the council’s chief executive and town clerk, Valerie Watts, and obtained by the Belfast Telegraph – details a radical shake-up of its organization, which will lead to the deletion of a large number of middle and senior management posts. The proposals were approved by councillors in a private meeting.
Seven council departments are to be merged into three directorates, with many supervisory jobs deleted. The role of deputy chief executive is to be axed. Some staff recruitment will be frozen until the reorganisation is completed. Transfers of some responsibilities from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Ilex urban regeneration company are to be requested, the report suggests. It is unclear how many jobs in total are planned to go.
Restructuring is needed now to prepare the council for its amalgamation with Strabane District Council in 2011, wrote Ms Watts, who was appointed in July last year. The two councils are to merge as a result of the Review of Public Administration (RPA).
Valerie Watts said: “The proposed restructuring will enable council to be more responsive, improve its services and strengthen its resources to meet the challenges ahead for the city and the region. Local government must be dynamic and flexible and our challenge is to provide successful, effective, accountable and innovative public services for all.
“The transformation report arises from key change drivers that ensure services are based around the needs of the user and are more focused and personalised. The changes will also drive quality and innovation throughout the organisation. The report will be considered by trade unions, with a timetable and process for delivery to be agreed over the coming weeks. The fundamental change is the reconfiguration of services into three directorates to bring improvements through efficiencies, joining up services and moving resources to the frontline services.”
But the main trade union representing council staff, Nipsa, issued a statement saying it “reacted angrily” to the proposals. Nipsa assistant general secretary Bumper Graham explained: “These plans have been hatched by the town clerk without any consultation either with the trade unions, or indeed with the partner council, Strabane. Nipsa is not going to accept such behaviours, which is in breach of our members employment rights and shows total disregard for the industrial relations process.”
“It has been accepted by all those involved that the RPA process is complex and difficult, requiring detailed assessment and full and open engagement. What we have with this plan is what we have feared the use of RPA to hatchet cut jobs and to seek to have the bigger of the two councils imposing its plans on the other council. Unless there is an immediate withdrawal of this plan Nipsa will consider a range of measures necessary to protect our members interests in both Derry and Strabane councils, including, if need be, industrial action.”