Coronavirus: Council for the blind forced into ‘truly awful’ cutbacks

National charity for the blind to lay off some staff and make 10% wage cuts

The national charity supporting the blind reported a  30 per cent drop in funding during the coronavirus crisis. Photograph: iStock

The national charity supporting the blind reported a 30 per cent drop in funding during the coronavirus crisis. Photograph: iStock

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The national charity supporting the blind has had to make “truly awful” cuts to safeguard the future of the organisation, due to a 30 per cent drop in funding during the coronavirus crisis.

Staff at the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) were informed of salary cuts and temporary layoffs across the State-funded organisation in recent days.

The charity provides rehabilitation and training, as well as counselling and employment support to those affected by vision loss, assisting about 8,000 people a year.

Chris White, NCBI chief executive, said the charity had seen a significant funding drop with the closure of its retail shops and halt to fundraising events, in a recent email to staff seen by The Irish Times.

“While the HSE funds the majority of our service provision it is still inadequate to cover the full costs of providing all our services,” Mr White told staff.

Emergency request

The charity has submitted an emergency request to the HSE for additional funds “to ensure the continuity and consistency of our services”, Mr White said. It is understood discussions between the charity and the HSE are ongoing.

Staff to be temporarily laid off will include those working in communications, human resources, advocacy, maintenance, the chief executive’s office, and the charity’s foundation.

“I know none of these decisions are welcome, in fact they are truly awful as all of us will be affected in some way,” Mr White told staff.

A number of NCBI staff who work as telephonists across the civil service will have their salaries cut by 10 per cent for the remainder of the year, the email said. The financial situation would be reviewed on April 20th, the email said.

“We are operating in an environment where approximately 30 per cent of our funding has stopped completely (through shop closures and no income from events and public collections),” Mr White said.

“There will be a one day a week reduction of your working time (pro rata) for every week until 31st December 2020,” Mr White told staff. “Salaries will revert to January 2020 levels in January 2021 or earlier if the financial situation of the organisation improves,” he said.

The NCBI operates one of the largest networks of charity shops in the country, but its 117 shops have been closed and staff temporarily laid off. The closure of the shops due to coronavirus restrictions on non-essential retail outlets had a major impact on the charity’s finances.

Rehabilitation

In an effort to stem the financial shortfall, the organisation has set up an online shop to continue to sell its retail stock.

The cutbacks had been decided by the charity’s senior management team in early April “for the future protection of our front-line services and the entire NCBI organisation,” the email to staff said.

The NCBI has a rehabilitation and training centre on Whitworth Road, Drumcondra, north Dublin, and two centres for social activities in Drumcondra and Co Wexford.

The services provided by the centres are undergoing a “reconfiguration” given the national lockdown, with some staff temporarily laid off.

The cutbacks would also include an “absolute reduction in discretionary spending”, and new posts or vacancies would not be filled for the remainder of the year, the email said.

Travel and subsistence expenses for staff would cease and travel would require the sign off of senior managers “unless the staff member wishes to travel at their own expense”, the email said.

The NCBI declined to comment on the cutbacks or the status of negotiations with the HSE for additional funding.