Antrim and Newtownabbey Council in Covid recovery mode, members told

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has moved from responding to Covid-19 to recovery, councillors have been told.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 10:54 am

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Audit Committee on Monday evening, Paul Caulcutt, Head of Internal Audit, told members that this applies not just to services but to community businesses within the borough.

Independent committee member Grace Nesbitt said that it had been agreed at a previous meeting that there would be an audit of the council’s response to the Covid pandemic, which she stated, should be reflected in the new Audit Plan.

She stressed the need for the council to “see if there is anything else it can do” to bring a “fresh approach” to help businesses in the borough that have been affected by the pandemic and for economic development and regeneration.

Mossley Mill

She also commented on the high level of “absent management” within the local authority.

The Local Government Auditor’s Report said that the number of sick days absence in Antrim and Newtownabbey overall has decreased from  13.73 days per person in 2018/19 to 12.41 days during 2019/20.

The decrease was accredited to “support interventions and close management of absences”.

The report says that key contributors to longterm abseenteeism in Northern Ireland’s councils are stress, depression and musculoskeletal problems.

The report stated: “The Local Government Auditor notes that she has consistently highlighted the importance of closely monitoring and actively managing sickness absence levels in order to ensure that staff welfare is protected and that the delivery of front line services is not adversely affected.”

Antrim SDLP Councillor Roisin Lynch said that “absent management should be kept under review”.

The report also acknowledges that councils have faced “unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19 which will continue as they deal with both the immediate and longer-term repercussions of the pandemic”.

It states that there has been a “significant financial impact related to decisions made by councils in order to maintain public safety, particularly during the emergency response to the pandemic”.

It has also stated that “there is likely to be a longterm and ongoing impact on the economy and public sector finances, however the full extent is unknown at this stage”.

The Local Government Auditor also emphasised the need for councils to ensure that reserve balances are monitored and managed closely, particularly as income levels decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

and that councils should “consider the reasons for the level of reserves held and ensure they are used for the purposes intended and should be kept under review.”

Alliance Councillor Billy Webb noted that the council has staff furloughed and staff working from home.

Sandra Cole, director of Finance and Governance, reported that an action plan was presented to the Audit Committee in September and work is progressing on a recovery plan for services.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

Click here to read: Rates freeze for businesses and residents in Antrim and Newtownabbey

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