Belfast Telegraph

Older staff will lose out in cash plan as less experienced staff will be given preference

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's older civil servants are set to be the losers in the Executive's multi-million pound exit scheme, it emerged last night.

That's because more junior civil servants with fewer years' service are likely to be given preference among the 2,400 jobs which have to be shed over the next few months. Officials emphasised yesterday, as the scheme was launched, that one of their key criteria will be "value for money" - and it will be cheaper to allow less experienced and lower grade staff to go. The Executive is to borrow around £110m to finance the scheme - which will see average payouts of around £58,000 - but insists it will save £90m on Stormont's annual wage bill, and £90m every year thereafter.

Hundreds will be allowed to leave their jobs by the end of September.

Bumper Graham of the main civil service union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) is vehemently opposed to the plans. He said public sector redundancy schemes tended to favour the cheaper option.

"That is just the way these things tend to work," he said.

"In any public sector redundancy scheme, and that's what this is, one of the key elements is the lowest cost. The more senior and experienced staff are obviously the more expensive. It is just a crude head count they are going for.

"This is crazy stuff. You would think they would look at the grades, divisions and the localities in which people are working first and then introduce a scheme. This is the opposite - a free-for-all."

Stormont mandarins, including Department of Finance permanent secretary Colin Lewis, have already warned MLAs the upheaval of so many jobs going in a year will be challenging.

Yesterday, it was also confirmed those civil servants still left - even after the scheme has run its course - can be redeployed against their will. According to advice, "whether or not you apply for voluntary exit, there is no guarantee that you will be able to remain in your current post".

And it added: "As a consequence of the need to exit a considerable number of staff in a short period of time, there is likely to be a need to redeploy a significant number of staff to maintain business continuity."

Mr Graham responded: "They can say what they like, people have to take their own circumstances into account."

In a new bulletin, Nipsa has warned its members if they fail to make a stand, "not only will these cuts be implemented but even more severe attacks on jobs, pay and pensions will be implemented".

"It is self-evident that if there is no serious resistance to these cuts then politicians will know that they can do what they like and will step up attacks on public services," it said, adding: "These cuts are not inevitable. If there is sufficient outcry and protest they can be halted. The May 2015 UK general election will be an important milestone and Northern Ireland MPs could well be in a position to negotiate a better public expenditure deal if there is a hung Parliament and we build up enough pressure on them over the next four months."

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