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Calls for Council to dispose of old hospital site in Armagh in bid to save money

Former hospital on Abbey Street in Armagh

Council have been urged to look hard at ways to save money with the sale of the old hospital site in Armagh one possible way to cut spend, according to one councillor.

While the site on Abbey Street costs approximately £150,000 a year to heat, it still houses a significant number of Council staff, and derives an income from Ulster GAA.

A concern around bin lorries returning to depot at mid-morning was also cited as not being “a good look for any public authority”.

Speaking at a special meeting of Council, Alderman Stephen Moutray felt that a lot more could be done to achieve savings without impacting on service delivery.

The Lurgan DUP representative stated: “Moving on within this organisation, it will become increasingly difficult to find efficiencies without negatively impacting frontline services, a point often made by officers to ourselves.

“The challenge going forward will be utilising resources to the maximum and finding smarter ways to work.

“It is a concern to me, and I’m sure to other members, that now 55% of our budget goes on staffing costs, a rise of over 5% largely due to pay increases applied last year.

“This year the one challenge will be to dispose of in a timely manner the excess in the property portfolio this council has, much of which is legacy and quite a bit of it around Armagh city.

“That incurs ever-increasing costs to maintain and to secure annually.

“A building that costs in excess of £150,000 a year to heat – I’m referring to the old hospital in Armagh – is not a good look for this council.

“Almost nine years after this council has been created, much is still to be done around terms and conditions for staff.

“That must be a priority, and also there are inconsistent pricing structures across the council, sometimes leading to undercharging and consequently lost revenue.

“Welcome work has been started around harmonisation of bin collections, but that needs to progress, and unions too must play a positive role in helping to achieve better ways to work.

“Bin lorries returning to depots mid-morning isn’t a good look for any public authority.

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“The challenge to reduce absenteeism remains. Let’s hope that the extra resource recently agreed within HR will show improvements in absenteeism in the coming year.

“Overtime has cost this organisation over £3m this year. This and the use of casual needs further scrutiny.

“I appreciate the work staff and officers at all levels do in this council, but is it really right that we expect our manual staff to work full-time in all weathers, while office staff can, if they like, work from home?

“It’s time that this council had a work style policy implemented that meant staff were in their place of work to best engage with other departments, outside bodies and elected members.

“This council has many challenges but it’s a great borough to live in, and I believe across this chamber there’s a desire to make it work for our residents.

“I want us to have resources moving forward, so that we can invest in economic priorities, and that we can bring better well-paid jobs here, along with top-class community and leisure facilities.

“We will only achieve this if we manage our resources wisely and prudently.”

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