Belfast Telegraph

Out of control: Stormont's £40,000 a day overtime bill

Civil servants do 1m extra hours of work in a year

By Adrian Rutherford

Spending on overtime by cash-strapped Stormont departments has spiralled to more than £40,000 a day.

Civil servants have worked almost 1,135,000 extra hours during the last year, running up a near £15m bill.

That is a 14% rise on the previous year's cost, and a 38% surge from two years ago – despite the Executive facing pressure to slash expenditure.

Eight of the departments saw their spending rise, including the Office of First and Deputy First Minister, which went up 160%.

Ukip MLA David McNarry accused bosses of allowing the system to spiral out of control.

"It is absolutely outrageous," he said. "We are being preached at about the need to cut back in spending, and here are departments spending money like confetti. People have taken their eye off the ball."

Details of each department's spending on overtime was obtained by this newspaper after Freedom of Information requests.

In the 12 months to April, civil servants worked 1,134,120 additional hours, costing a total of £14,736,126 in extra payments.

The Department for Social Development had the highest overtime bill. It spent £4,114,370 on 473,051 extra hours – up 10% on the 2011-12 figures.

Four other departments' bills totalled more than £1m.

Some £3,262,458 was spent by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) – up 10% – while the Department of Finance and Personnel's bill increased by 31% to £2,116,292.

The Department for Regional Development's expenditure rose by 10% to £2,971,926.

Both Dard and DRD's extra spending may be partly explained by the chaos caused by the severe winter weather earlier this year.

The other body which had a seven-figure bill was the DoE, where spending on overtime rose by 14% to £1,037,201.

Mr McNarry said an urgent explanation was needed.

"It is clear the Civil Service is out of control," he added.

"More alarming is that the ministers in charge of the departments have let it happen."

Mr McNarry said a review of overtime spending must be top of new Finance Minister Simon Hamilton's agenda.

"I think this is the first job for Mr Hamilton to deal with, and he should deal with it as a matter of urgency," he added.

UUP MLA Ross Hussey, who sits on the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee, questioned if cuts to Civil Service staff levels have ended up costing money rather than producing savings.

"Overtime payments clearly are above and beyond the standard payment, so does it mean they have cut too many members of staff?" he said.

"If that is the case, it might be more cost-effective to bring some of them back, because it seems there are insufficient people there to do the job within the eight hours they are supposed to do it."

The highest percentage rise in overtime spending involved Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness's department, the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Although it surged by 160%, the £110,845 was still the lowest total of all 12 departments.

OFMDFM declined to provide an explanation for the rise.

Three departments saw a modest fall in overtime spending – Health, Education and Enterprise.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said he intended to table Assembly questions on the matter, stating: "£40,000 each day is a lot of money from the public purse.

"There may be good reasons for some of it, but it seems a huge expenditure at a time when budgets are being pared back."

While the civil service is under pressure to cut back, it is expected to be further hit by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Mr Hamilton has already sounded warnings about efficiency savings, particularly addressing high levels of sickness and absenteeism.

The bill for 2012-13 is up 38% from two years ago, when overtime payments were £10,663,738.

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