I read with some amusement Cllr Rodgers response (22/03/03) to my call for a review of terms and conditions for Crossing Patrol Staff, in which he criticised me for not having met with the BELB to discuss the matter, accused me of not having checked my facts, denied that pay and conditions were part of the problem and finally accused me of not knowing what I was talking about. I would like to take this opportunity to correct his assertions and prevent him from embarrassing himself any further.
Firstly, pay and conditions are not the responsibility of individual Education and Library Boards but are determined on a UK wide basis. This was confirmed by Minister for Education, Jane Kennedy MP, in a letter to me following a recent meeting with the Minister and her officials, at which I raised the issue and presented a petition of over 400 signatures calling for action to address the chronic staff shortage. The local Boards do all they can to recruit new crossing staff, but as they do not have the power to vary pay and conditions, a meeting to ask them to do so would have been a monumental waste of their time.
Secondly, with regards to checking my facts, for over a year I have monitored the situation not only in East Belfast, but also across Northern Ireland. In May 2002, there were 72 vacancies across the province, 49 of which had been vacant for more than one year, a figure which had risen to 78 by February 2003. On the day my statement was issued, BELB confirmed that 18 out of 44 posts in East Belfast were currently vacant. In addition, there are a number of long-term vacancies within SEELB area of East Belfast including two at Wynchurch, vacant for four and seven years. The facts, therefore, are not in question. They illustrate that there is a crisis, one which Alliance has been working to address for some time.
His assertion that pay and conditions are not a problem, completely contradicts the experience of the crossing staff I have spoken to, who find that, due to their small salary, they lose most of their entitlements, and after tax the work is financially unrewarding. Alliance has discussed a number of positive and innovative proposals with head-teachers, patrol staff and parents, and these have considerable support in the community. They include job-sharing arrangements to allow more flexibility for those who value freedom in their retirement and job-partnering where a number of jobs are “rolled up” to provide a few more hours work per week and make the post more financially attractive. I note the absence of any such creativity in Cllr Rodgers contribution.
As for not knowing what I am talking about, I’ll leave that to Cllr Rodgers, who would appear to be the expert in that field, if in no other.