Job losses provoke angry response
Politicians and workers have reacted furiously to plans to axe more than 300 jobs at the Driver and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland.
All motor tax offices are to close with all licensing services transferred to Swansea, Wales, Stormont Environment Minister Mark Durkan announced. Services will cease in July and the offices are expected to be completely wound down by the end of the year.
Coleraine, Co Londonderry, will be hardest hit by the centralisation, which Westminster Roads Minister Stephen Hammond said would provide better, quicker services while saving £12 million a year.
Trade unionist Ryan McKinney said: "Staff are absolutely gutted, people are in tears."
The Democratic Unionists warned the price of cooperation with the Conservatives or Labour if the next parliament fails to give one party an overall majority had increased.
East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: "The fact that this Government is prepared to sacrifice 300 jobs all over Northern Ireland means in our discussions we will be wanting economic benefit for Northern Ireland but we will have to make up these 300 jobs as well as that economic benefit."
Coleraine will lose 235 of the DVA jobs but, according to Mr Durkan, an assessment by independent economists estimate the knock on impact will equate to the loss of around 500 posts, removing £22 million from the Northern Ireland economy.
He said: "This is purely a narrowly focused cost-cutting exercise made with no regard whatsoever for standards of service, the impact on customers, or the wider impact on the economy of Northern Ireland and, in particular, of Coleraine."
Coleraine is the largest town in eastern Co Londonderry and has been hard-hit by the recession. Unemployment (Jobseekers Allowance claimants) in the East Londonderry Westminster constituency of which Coleraine is part stood at 3,465 in January, 5% of the working age population.
Mr McKinney, assistant secretary at the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) union, said workers were devastated.
He said: " They have put their faith in this campaign and expected that the coalition government would listen to the representations made by staff representatives, by politicians and by the local business community and unfortunately their faith in the coalition government was not well-founded."
He said there will be nowhere in Northern Ireland to have face to face contact with an experienced vehicle licensing member of staff.
"Some services will be provided by post offices but they are limited and will be far from the full range currently available."
Staff gathered at the Coleraine DVA headquarters said they had been left in limbo and warned Northern Ireland motorists and members of the public were going to suffer from this "draconian" decision.
Mr Hammond said motorists would benefit from the same provision as those in the rest of the UK.
He added they will, for the first time, be able to tax vehicles online or by phone and will have access to more face-to-face services than before at around 175 post offices across Northern Ireland.
He said: "F or the first time, Northern Ireland motorists will have greater choice and flexibility or where, when and how they use these services."
He said he had listened carefully to concerns about the uncertainty for staff.
He added: "While the changes mean DVA will no longer provide these services, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has said that they will try to avoid redundancies and minimise the amount of compulsory redundancies as a result of these changes."
East Londonderry MLA John Dallat, SDLP, said workers felt let down.
He said: "This decision demonstrates very clearly the low priority Northern Ireland has when it comes to decision-making and it calls into question the sincerity of the Tories when they claim they are on the side of rebuilding our economy and pointing to a better future for everyone."
Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O hOisin said: "While the British Government talks about retraining and serving the needs of the workers, the simple fact is that they have been unceremoniously dumped on the dole queue."
As well as Coleraine, there are seven other motor tax offices in Northern Ireland, in Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Londonderry and Omagh.