Last month (16th April 2014) the R2W group wrote to Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó’Muilleoir and all Belfast City Councillors’ expressing their shock and disappointment at information received through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which showed that their REAL JOBS policy had not progressed in the five months since it was passed by councillors on the 6th January

The FOI revealed that not one email had been sent, not one report compiled, nor had one meeting taken place on the progression of the motion. This inaction of a fully resourced Council is to be contrasted with the determination of a group of long term unemploymed people who have both worked with legal professionals to develop workable contract language and drafted an implementation plan, which was presented to all political parties at council in February, to speed up the process.

Following the revelations the R2W asked the Mayor and all political parties who pledged their support for the motion to respond urgently to their request for an implementation plan,  a timescale for delivery and to make it a priority at the next full council meeting on May 1st 2014.

However, Council did not discuss the issue at the last Council meeting before Councillors stood down in advance of the elections this week (22nd May 2014) and no response has been received from any of the Council parties or the Lord Mayor.

A letter was however sent, to PPR by a Council official for the attention of the group on the 8th May.

In the letter, the Council official outlines that whilst the Freedom of Information request was ‘factually correct’ in that no meetings, emails or reports have progressed the policy in five months the ‘economic development and property and project teams and policy development teams will work up a specific policy position that addresses the major implication logistics and costs of implementing such a clause in our contracts’. [emphasis added]

The letter continues:

“In the meantime the essence of the Real Jobs clause is being implemented as from February 2014.  Council officers have amended the standards of our existing social clauses to reflect the requirement of the motion as opportunities arise.

"To date the intent of the motion has been captured in capital works tenders for the Waterfront Hall, Connswater Greenway Phase 2, the Innovation Centre, Girdwood and Olympia Leisure Centre. 

"All of this is a work in progress as for example we are having difficulties with apprenticeships given the time gap between our contracts and apprenticeship terms.  We also at times have to comply with other partners requirements as a lot of Council schemes depend on external funding and they may not quite fit the Real Jobs model.” [emphasis added]

However, in an email sent by the same Council officer (9th April 2014) in response to a query from an elected official, it is clearly stated;

‘As we do not yet have a clear policy decision on the implications of implementing a Real Jobs Clause we have not specifically included it in any contracts.’

The REAL JOBS NOW motion was supported by a petition of over 2000 Belfast citizens (and over 1,600 unemployed people) and received cross community political support at Belfast City Council on the 6th January 2014. It reads:

“That this Council recognises the increasing social and economic hardship experienced by people in our communities as a result of growing unemployment and cuts to welfare benefit; council accepts it has  a duty to use the powers available to it (including but not limited to planning, regulation and procurement powers), to generate positive outcomes for the most marginalised in our communities and hereby commits to include a ‘Real Jobs’ clause at every available opportunity, in contracts tendered by council to procure goods, services and capital works. The ‘Real Jobs clause’ will guarantee ring fenced, fully paid jobs and apprenticeships for the long-term unemployed (12+ months)”

Since last month, whilst councillors were canvassing within communities for the election on the 22nd May, the R2W group have been canvassing support for the REAL JOBS NOW Policy’s implementation within the same communities. The response of those spoken to has been one of frustration at the lack of progress and determination to support the REAL JOBS NOW campaign to its conclusion.

Group member Bertie Atkinson who recently finished another government back to work scheme which did not result in a job at the end said;

"We have been out and about across the community making people aware of developments since we got the disappointing information last month. The letter we have since received in response doesn’t inspire confidence and I don’t think any long term unemployed person would be happy with ‘the essence’ or ‘the intent’ of a REAL JOB any more than a councillor would be happy with the ‘essence’ or ‘intent’ of a vote!

"The question now is if they are elected what will the councillors do to make the real jobs policy happen? When can long term unemployed people expect to find a REAL JOB through this policy as promised?"