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CITY TRIBUNE

GMIT expects to break even following staff cuts

Dara Bradley

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Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) will return to surplus in the next academic year, its current President has predicted.

Dr Fergal Barry said the college’s deficit will be less than €1 million in the current academic year, and further job cuts will bring the institute back into the black.

Dr Barry’s statement comes after a shock report predicted the demise of GMIT unless deep cuts – including up to 50 job losses – were implemented.

And despite his reassurances, staff at the college fear a “surplus to requirements” list is being drawn up as the college looks to cut its pay bill through redundancies if necessary.

As revealed in the Galway City Tribune last week, Michael O’Connell – a former financial controller at Limerick IT, when he was a colleague of Dr Barry – compiled a report that recommends cost reductions and income generation totalling €5 million for 2015-2020.

The report called into question the future sustainability of the institute, and warned that drastic cutbacks are necessary to arrest the perilous financial decline faced by GMIT.

It predicted the third level college’s cash reserves will dry-up completely in three years, and it “will become technically insolvent”, if corrective action is not taken.

GMIT, according to the report, made an operating loss for the past four years, and has accumulated operating deficits of €6.7 million during that time. Its reserves now stand at less than €8 million.

On current trends, “the viability and sustainability of its core operations in the longer term will be threatened”, according to the report’s author, Michael O’Connell.

He recommended a suite of measures to reduce the €40 million-plus annual payroll costs, including 50 job cuts through non-replacement of staff who retire, non-renewal of temporary contracts, and redundancies.

The remaining staff should undergo “retraining, reassignment and redeployment” to “create efficiencies” and to “absorb this reduction in capacity”.

The O’Connell report has not been ratified by GMIT’s Governing Body, but it is understood Education Minister Richard Bruton, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and officials in the Higher Education Authority believe its recommendations are necessary to save GMIT.

One Governing Body member, who did not wish to be named, said the thrust of the O’Connell report is supported.

“We cannot continue to operate by incurring losses of this size every year. If there are courses where there are only five students on them, well then that’s not sustainable. We also have a situation where there is a shortage of nurses but there is a cap on the number of students who can enrol in the nursing course at Castlebar, which is impacting on that the ability of that campus to break even,” the member said.

However, another member said there is a divergence of opinion at Governing Body level.

“The O’Connell report was not formally ratified,” the source said. “It was discussed at Governing Body level but it was not voted on and was not ratified.”

The source confirmed that a nine-point plan, drawn-up by Jim Fennel, GMIT’s financial controller, was “discussed and ratified” by the Governing Body. It is understood there is some overlap in both documents.

Another Governing Body member told the Galway City Tribune that there was a certain amount of “gamesmanship” going on, as well as politicking, between the Galway campuses and the Castlebar campus, which is under threat.

In a statement issued last Friday, Dr Barry said: “GMIT’s executive and finance function has been actively implementing many of the recommendations of an independent external report (O’Connell Report 2015) and an Action Plan approved by the Institute’s Governing Body.

“As a result, GMIT’s deficit will be less than €1m at the end of this academic year (2016/2017) and the Institute will be returning to surplus on the September 1, 2017 for the Academic Year 2017/2018.

“GMIT will be using its considerable reserves to support the implementation of its academic plan. To date planned staffing level reductions have been and continue to be achieved through non-replacement of retirements and the reassignment of staff to areas of growth,” he said.

Dr Barry pointed out that there has been an increase in demand for some course at GMIT following the CAO ‘change of mind’ deadline; and it has also introduced new courses.

Meanwhile, TUI Deputy General Secretary Dr Aidan Kenny, who has overall responsibility for third level in the trade union, visited the Galway campus and outlined to members the existence of the O’Connell report and the threat it posed to their employment terms and conditions.

The meeting heard claims that the Government and HEA have “bypassed” the Governing Body and instructed the college to implement the cuts. The meeting heard how a “surplus to requirement” list is being prepared.

TUI, as well as members in the two other staff unions, SIPTU and IMPACT, are concerned at the lack of implementation.

Last week, a motion of no confidence in the Board of GMIT was disused at Castlebar Municipal District.

There is anger in Mayo at a supposed ‘ultimatum’ to staff to transfer to Galway; there is also a sense in Mayo that Castlebar is being ‘run down’ at the expense of investment in Galway.

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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