Three hundred staff members have left Galway County Council since the public service recruitment embargo was introduced and over a hundred more could leave by the end of February, it was suggested this week.
Responding to concerns about reductions in staffing levels, County Manager Martina Moloney informed councillors at Monday’s council meeting that 300 staff members have left since the hiring freeze was introduced in 2008, and that the indications are that more will be leaving be February.
She said that this would be a huge loss to the council at a time when there has been a very significant reduction in local authority funding. She added, however, that the council has signed up to the national internship scheme JobBridge, and that there are some opportunities for the council to gain extra staff through this and other community employment schemes.
Cllr Jim Cuddy said that it is his understanding that there have been 130 expressions of interest from staff seeking to leave the council, and questioned what is the lowest staffing level that the council needs in order to deliver services. He added that pension payouts would further impact on council expenditure.
Cllr Seán Canney also said that 60 per cent of the council’s outdoor workers have left the system through early retirement or not having their contracts renewed over the last two years, and stated that the council is now at a juncture where they cannot fulfil service needs because of a lack of manpower and funding.
Councillors also suggested that road maintenance around the county is suffering due to reduced staffing levels, with Cllr Cuddy stating that the roads around Oranmore are gradually getting worse.
Raising concerns that minor roads are not being maintained due to a lack of funding and manpower, he said that it does not matter how busy a road is, motorists are still entitled to travel along it safely.
He warned that there is a “major accident” waiting to happen at the River Oaks Shopping Centre in Claregalway, where the road floods even after “minor showers”. He said that motorists are being forced to veer out on the far side of the road to avoid the flooding, adding that the matter is not a new one, but that nothing has been done by the council.
Responding to this, Director of Services Frank Gilmore acknowledged that there is an issue with drainage in the area and that this is currently being investigated by council engineers, adding that the issue would be dealt with “in due course”.
Mr Gilmore said that the problems referred to by Cllr Cuddy stem from a lack of investment in services over the last number of years and that the council is now in a “catch up” situation in terms of road maintenance, with severe weather in recent years making this even more difficult.
Cllr Peter Roche questioned whether FAS workers could be deployed to deal with maintenance issues in situations where council workers are not available, while Cllr Michael Connolly said that the county’s roads are in a “horrendous state” and called on the council to be more proactive and imaginative in dealing their maintenance. He added that there is a role for construction workers who are “crying out for work” around Galway in maintaining the county’s roads.
At Monday’s meeting, councillors also questioned the prioritising of certain roads in the council’s Winter Service Plan, which identifies hundreds of kilometres of county roads as priority routes that are guaranteed to be salted during difficult weather conditions.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) has allocated 5,800 tonnes of salt to the local authority this winter and council officials outlined that other routes around the county will be salted once “priority one” routes are dealt with by council crews. Mr Gilmore said that the council cannot cover every road in the country, but that major transport links are treated as priorities.