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Sinn Féin have criticised Belfast City Council for the amount of people employed to clean the city centre.

Sinn Féin Councillor Ciaran Beattie said during the full council meeting at City Hall this week that six cleansing employees for the city centre area was “not enough”. Councillor Beattie tabled the council motion to create the new Belfast Cleansing Task Force in May, which received cross party support.

Belfast has seen months of bad headlines concerning littering, graffiti 'tagging', fly tipping, missed collections and rat infestation, with business owners and residents crying out against a perceived run-down city centre.

Read more:Belfast Cleansing Task Force needs "broader approach" to "Dirty Belfast" says member

The first meeting of the new task force was held last week. It consisted of members from each party, senior council management and cleansing management, and was convened by the Lord Mayor, with officer recommendations to be returned later this month.

Councillor Beattie told the chamber on Monday the first meeting of the Task Force had heard “a very worthwhile discussion.” He said: “There were some good ideas put forward. We have talked about going into solution mode, and that is where we got to in the end.

“We have been contacted heavily by the business community and people within neighbourhoods. Some of the ideas coming through are to have more community empowerment - for example how do we give incentives for community organisations to go and do clean-ups?”

He added: “Also - and I did not know this until recently - we only hose down the city centre 14 times a year. That has now been increased to 26 - but I still think that is not enough. If you look at most European cities, they are hosed down nearly on a nightly basis. When businesses are opening in the morning people see a clean doorway - that is somewhere we need to get to.

“I understand there are other pressures such as drug use and homelessness in the city centre, and we do need to look at other issues in parallel. But this is a specific issue we need to address here and now.

“And we will need assistance from Stormont departments Thankfully our officers have agreed to work that out, to see what our ask eventually will be. But we do have an opportunity now to make a real difference to how we move our city centre and neighbourhoods forward collectively.”

He said: “I have also been made aware we have a small amount of staff who work in the city centre, and again I don’t think they are enough. Six daytime staff - six people to clean the city centre in my view is not enough.

“I wouldn’t fancy cleaning it with just five other people. And at night time we have five staff - that’s a small amount of staff for an enormous amount of work. We have to look at resources as well as everything else.”

Green Councillor Brian Smyth told the chamber: “As a council we need to get back to the fundamentals, which is about improving the lives of the people in this city. We can talk about the Belfast Agenda, digital innovation, and smart cities, but unless we have a clean, safe, green, accessible city, that people have a sense of civic pride in, then we are failing and also driving away potential future investment.

“In the short term we have to raise standards. For us it is particularly around areas of heavy footfall in the city centre and in key streets where people are attracted, the Cathedral Quarter, Great Victoria Street, around the Rail and Bus Centre, Donegall place and Corn Market. We have to really lift the standards there.

“That is not to say we forget about everywhere else, but for the summer months that is where people will gravitate towards. And I know it is not the remit of the Task Force, but we need to be sending a clear signal that we need to see increased visibility of the PSNI, to make people feel safe.”

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