Sub-contractors could be laid-off over winter as a cash-strapped government department cuts back on routine maintenance of highways and estates.
The Department of Infrastructure has already unveiled a raft of new and increased charges as part of efforts to meet a £5m cut in its budget.
And now Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne has announced the plug has been pulled on lot of planned maintence until April - and sub-contractors may be laid off as a result.
He said: ‘We’ve laid off sub-contractors and are having to stop a lot of work we were hoping to do.
‘It’s not a step we have taken lightly. Looking after our infrastructure is our responsibility and we need to maintain it to a reasonable standard. We are on target to get £5m of savings.’
Mr Gawne said he hoped budget pressures would ease in the next financial year and the routine maintenance programme could resume.
DoI chief executive Nick Black said: ‘I can confirm that the department is carefully managing its expenditure to meet the budget challenges that have been reported previously. As part of a package of measures the department is reducing planned expenditure on estates and highways maintenance.’
Mr Black explained that it was impossible to say whether private contractors would lay-off staff as a resut.
He said: ‘In civil engineering the amount of work allocated to contractors has been growing as we have reduced the number of employees through the Mutually Agreed Resignation Schemes operated over the last 2-3 years.
‘There is a seasonal element to some of these works, with the Douglas regeneration paving works stopping in the run-up to Christmas. The department uses contractors more in the summer for such tasks and hedge trimming, grass cutting, weed spraying and other maintenance of public rights of way and our increased efforts on this sort of work have actually meant that we have used more contractors for longer this year than in recent years but have now stopped for the winter.
‘However, a reduction in spend combined with seasonal variations and delays to major schemes like the Douglas Promenade means that there could be an impact on companies who might have hoped to secure work from the department.
‘I have no way of knowing if any of these companies have reduced the number of people employed and, if so, whether this is a result of DoI decisions or of general economic conditions.’
Controversial charges announced by the DoI have caused outcry, prompting a series of u-turns.
A planned 50p fare to be charged on school buses is to be halved to 25p.
Proposals to restrict free bus passes to pensioners, by raising the age of eligibility from 60 to the state pension age, are now to be phased in but in order to pay for this, pensioners will be charged half fare at peak times.
And two-hour disc zone parking on Douglas promenades is to be retained – following concerns from retailers that the plan to cut free parking to one hour would hit trade.
But there has been no U-turn on a move to charge a £25 administration fee for residents’ parking permits, a charge the Minister himself admits is ‘ridiculous’ and which Minister for Policy and Reform Chris Robertshaw, MHK for Douglas West, has described as ‘bonkers’.
Fellow Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas, political member for Infrastructure, is conducting a review into the permit charges. The second of three public meetings took place last night (Wednesday) at the South Douglas Old Friends Club on Finch Road.