Both the Director of Neighbourhood and Director of City Services provided the Committee with a comprehensive overview of the Department’s priorities during the Covid pandemic and on the department’s areas of focus moving towards recovery.
The Committee was advised that during the Covid Pandemic the City and Neighbourhood Services Department had remained central in the delivery of critical Council services, including bereavement services, waste collection, parks and street cleansing andlead on the development and implementation of the community response hub. The Director of Neighbourhood Services advised that maintaining these services during the response period had required the Council to amend some working practices, this had included the re-deployment of some staff in order to ensure service delivery, some functions had moved to working from home and some had to be stood down with some staff having to be placed on the government’s Furlough scheme.
The officer advised that, in line with the easing of restrictions from the Northern Ireland Executive, the Council was now working towards the recovery of its services. As a result it had been necessary to refocus the department’s priorities to enable officers to adequately resource the required work.
The Committee was advised that during the period of recovery the department priority areas of focus for the City and Neighbourhood Services Department were as follows:
· maintaining the delivery of the key critical services – bereavement services, waste management, parks and street cleansing and Community (Area) support;
· returning services to a new normal – which would include the creation of secure working environments in line with health and safety requirements and also taking into consideration the overall financial position of the Council;
· Brexit – temporary staff (externally funded) to be recruited to ensure the delivery of official controls on imported foods that might be required under the NI Protocol from 1st January 2020. These staff will be essential to meet the Council and UK Government’s legal responsibilities under the NI protocol, domestic and EU legislation;
· Community Recovery – building on the foundation of community response activity with the Council’s community partners, the focus would involve engaging with communities, along with city partners on a co-design and inclusive process to develop area recovery priorities, build capacity and align resources and to maximise outcomes, and to improve community support infrastructure, community wealth and assets;
· Implementation of Open Space and Street Service – to continue to implement this service structure, as agreed pre Covid, to ensure stable area teams in the management of Council parks and open spaces and public streets in a more collaborative way;
· Supporting Governance – to ensure that decision making continued to be facilitated through the relevant committees and working groups; and
· Planning for a potential second wave.
A Member commended the hard work and dedication of all officers shown over the pandemic and requested that senior officers would e-mail or communicate via other internal communication mechanisms with all staff from the City and Neighbourhood Services Department thanking them for their hard work and contribution in maintaining the delivery of essential Council services during the Covid pandemic.
Several Members referred to the difficulties experienced over waste collection services during the pandemic. The Director of City Services outlined the practical and financial pressures that this service had and continued to face and it was agreed a report would be submitted to a future meeting detailing the ongoing challenges in respect of the waste collection service during the pandemic and which would give consideration as to how these could be addressed.
Several Members sought guidance and clarification as to when certain Council services, in particular household visits might be reinstated, the Director advised that recovery of Council services was being considered at the August meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee and again reiterated the current pressures on the Department.