Belfast Telegraph

1,400 social security jobs at risk unless Northern Ireland agrees welfare reform, minister Simon Hamilton tells MLAs

By Noel McAdam

More than 1,400 jobs at social security offices in Belfast and Londonderry could be lost unless the Stormont stalemate over welfare reform is resolved, the DUP Finance Minister has warned.

Simon Hamilton said he was certain the London-based Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) would relocate the jobs in the two cities if the impasse was not solved.

And he said a new computer system would not be extended here unless the reforms were implemented.

"If we have 1,400 people in those service centres in Northern Ireland doing work on welfare spending for a region in England but do not have the same system – which we will not have – and if our people are not trained to work the other system, why would any minister in the Department for Work and Pensions want to keep those jobs here? It makes no sense," he told MLAs.

"I am sure there are many English MPs, particularly Conservative MPs, who would quite fancy taking those jobs back to their constituencies.

"If we have thumbed our noses at them and said that we are not going to do their welfare reform here, why would they keep those jobs here? You have only to apply logic and common sense to the situation."

Mr Hamilton's warning was challenged by former Social Development Minister Alex Attwood in the Assembly.

The SDLP MLA insisted the Executive was being asked to buy a "pig in a poke" by implementing Westminster changes to the welfare system, which have led to a Stormont standoff between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The row has led to fines being imposed by the Treasury – a budget reduction of £13m so far, which the Executive is poised to cushion using unspent money in its departments.

Mr Attwood said: "It is legally questionable that work that is awarded against proper standards to a devolved administration is then somehow overturned on the whim of a DWP minister who says that, if you do not do welfare reform, you do not get the work.

"That offends against due process and is bad practice."

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