CORK County Council has lost 382 outdoor staff over a 15-year period, leading to a sharp decline in the maintenance of Cork’s towns and villages, councillors learned at this week’s meeting of the local authority.
Councillor Gearóid Murphy sought a report on the numbers of outdoor staff retained by Cork County Council each year between 2008 and 2022. In 2008, there were 1,162 outdoor staff. By 2021, this figure had fallen to 766, with a small increase to this year bringing the figure to 780 employed in 2022.
Cllr Murphy said the issue has been raised repeatedly by all parties in the chamber. “There is a very clear perception that numbers have decreased significantly in the last ten to 15 years.”
Between 2008 and 2015 there was a 25% reduction in staff retained by Cork Council, falling from 1,162 on January 1 2008, down to 863 by January 2015. The reductions occurred when a recruitment ban was in place.
“These figures have not recovered since then,” said Mr Murphy. Cork County Council has an increasing population and it is important that services keep step with this, Mr Murphy added.
Cllr Seamus McGrath seconded the motion. “Unfortunately, the figures are extremely disappointing,” said Mr McGrath.
“From 2020 to 2022, we are down 40 staff. That is at a time when we in the chamber have been raising this issue continuously at budget discussions. I really have to question the extent that we have been listened to by the executive.”
The report is evidence that Cork Council “is extremely thin on the ground,” he said. The outdoor services are “absolutely critical” to services the cfouncil provides, and they cannot rely on voluntary groups to provide the work the council should provide, he added.
Cllr Declan Hurley said he has been requesting the figures at a municipal mistrict level since last February, but the figures were not supplied to him. In his area of Dunmanway, there has been a reduction of outdoor staff from 30 down to 13 in recent years.
“We’re losing the confidence of the public out there. There’s a huge amount of voluntary work being done, but they feel now they are being taken for granted. All they want is some bit of support from the council in relation to the work they are doing,” he said.
“We can’t even clean signposts. We have signposts around the county that are illegible because they are overgrown and dirty.” When councillors ring engineers, they are told “I’m sorry, we don’t have the staff,” he added.
Cllr Joe Carroll said a huge number of staff in West Cork were given to Irish Water. When the Town Councils were abolished, they were told that the same services would be provided.
“This has fallen down. We’re not getting the same service,” said Mr Carroll.
Skibbereen once had five employees and it now has only one, he added. He said the annual grant for the Tidy Towns has been increasing.
“We brought in a move where we’re throwing money at the Tidy Towns to do the Council work. This has to stop,” said Mr Carroll. “You can’t walk into a graveyard.” People would like “dignity in the graveyards”, but there are “briars and bushes growing out. It is disgraceful,” Mr Carroll added.
Cllr Frank O’Flynn said it was “frightening” to see 40 less boots on the ground” in the last two years. “What is the reason for that? Is there a shortage of applicants?”
Does Cork have enough staff to complete the amount of works to be done, asked Mr O’Flynn. “I would like to see the figures for each individual municipal district.”
Cllr Paul Hayes said it was an executive function but it has “huge ramifications” for the councillors who have to deal with the public, “who feel they are picking up the slack for work that should be done by the outdoor council staff.”
Cllr Kevin Murphy said the road conditions are in a “shocking state.” The outdoor staff numbers are very low, especially in the towns, he said. “The usual services have gone back substantially,” he added, saying he has been “inundated with calls” concerning the condition of Kinsale, which has seen a reduction from nine workers to one or two.
Cllr Michael Hegarty said East Cork has 1,200km of roads to maintain. Before the reforms, there was in excess of 663 staff working in the East Cork area. He said it’s the responsibility of the council to the people who elect them to ensure that “they have a reasonable quality of roads and services.”
Cllr William O’Leary said people pay the Local Property Tax (LPT) in the expectation that it be used on council services such as roads and footpaths.
Cork County Council CE Tim Lucey said the Tidy Towns and other community groups are certainly appreciated. Mr Lucey said the time for a discussion was during the Budget formation, and called for a proper assessment of the numbers.