Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Half of the changes to Stormont's victims service haven't been made yet

More than half of the proposals to overhaul Stormont's service to help victims of the Troubles have not yet been fully implemented, it has been revealed
More than half of the proposals to overhaul Stormont's service to help victims of the Troubles have not yet been fully implemented, it has been revealed

More than half of the proposals to overhaul Stormont's service to help victims of the Troubles have not yet been fully implemented, it has been revealed.

And further concerns over the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) have emerged in the aftermath of the surprise resignations of its chief executive and board chairman in recent weeks.

Senior sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that at present up to five of the eight positions on the VSS's governing board need to be filled.

And there are growing fears that a new Victims Commissioner to replace Kathryn Stone may not be appointed until next year.

The Victims Commission is now set to launch its own review of how the 70 recommendations agreed by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are progressing.

In a statement the commission – currently headed by acting commissioner John Beggs – said a six-month review may be launched in the autumn "to ensure the most pressing needs are being prioritised".

The commission also insisted it is "imperative" a replacement for Mrs Stone, who resigned in May after only two years, is "progressed immediately".

In its defence, the VSS – which Ms Stone told MLAs last year was "not fit for purpose" – said the level of monthly complaints against it is decreasing.

"The VSS has managed more than 2,000 phone calls per month and a total of 717 unplanned client drop-ins over the whole period between April to June this year – approximately 60 drop-ins per week, without increasing the level of client complaints," it said.

"In fact, client complaints have decreased month on month over this period."

The fresh concerns come after UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, chair of the Assembly committee which monitors the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, warned services for victims have been thrown into chaos after the sudden departures of VSS chief executive Anne Dorbie and chairman of the board Peter Gay.

They had been among senior officials working on the 70 recommendations given the go-ahead by the First Ministers in February to revamp the VSS.

But according to OFMDFM figures, only 34 have been wholly implemented so far. A further 16 have been "partially" implemented, while the remainder are being worked on or pending confirmation, the commission said.

In relation to the recommendations, an OFMDFM spokesperson said: "The majority of the implemented recommendations relate to governance within the Victims and Survivors Service.

"The department has commenced the appointment process for the new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors and the advert will be published in the near future. There is no issue with the appointment of additional VSS Board members."

FACTFILE

The recommendations for change in the service included:

  • A review of strategic aims, including a Corporate Plan that is awaiting OFMDFM approval
  • A robust staff appraisal system including monthly line management supervision meetings.
  • A more collaborative working relationship with key stakeholders such as the Forum for Victims and Survivors.
  • A revised communication and engagement plan.
  • Improved call handling, response, query and complaint management procedures.

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