Marching orders for City of Culture staff

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Three of the people responsible for the on-the-ground organisation of the Fleadh and other major events of City of Culture were given their marching orders last week. Their combined salaries wouldn’t equal the terms of employment - close on £100,000 a year plus generous rent and living expenses - of new “project director” Peter Appleton.

The three - everybody at Ebrington will know whom I’m talking about - are among 17 Culture Company (CC) staff told last Thursday to clear out their desks and clear off by March 31st next: this despite some having contracts that run through to June 30th.

This is the latest example of those who have done the heavy lifting on the year-long event being discarded in favour of “consultants”. The CC workers will now have no role in consolidating what they have bequeathed to the city. The lead role on “legacy” 
will be taken by Mr. Appleton. Nobody at the CC, including chief executive Shona McCarthy, was consulted 
about this.

Mr. Appleton replaced Dermot McLaughlin who, readers will remember, left the post in controversial circumstances on March 29th last. That’s five months ago. So there seems to have been no great urgency about finding a replacement. Not until a couple of weeks ago when council CEO Sharon O’Connor announced that it had become ultra-imperative that an appointment be made without a moment’s further delay.

The people, most of them Derry people, who worked far beyond the call of duty to make the year a success, got their jobs by answering adverts, sending in their CVs, going to interviews - the usual procedure. But the lads in the sharp suits cannot be expected to demean themselves in this manner. The usual procedure is only for the little local people.

The meeting which passed Ms. O’Connor’s proposal was told that the dire urgency dictated that three elite recruitment agencies be asked to identify “qualified” candidates within a week.

It was stroke of luck, then, that one of the candidates identified had had direct experience of working with senior council officials and already knew the lie of the land. (There is no suggestion of impropriety in any of this.)

Beneath the shiny surface of City of Culture success, discontent among council as well as CC staff is seething.

Legacy? Would anyone at the council care to deny that Museum Service workers have been told that some of them will be “deleted” - charming choice of words - as soon as the year is over? The man who told them in these terms that they weren’t wanted was Mr. Appleton.

It is surprising that these problems should have arisen on Ms. O’Connor’s watch, given her experience of handling local government input to cultural events in her previous job as Director of 
Development with Down District Council.