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Public servants re-employed after taking redundancy did not have to repay windfall

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/10/2016

Ten public servants who took a voluntary redundancy package were re-employed by the workplace they left without having to pay back their windfall, an Audit Office report has found
Ten public servants who took a voluntary redundancy package were re-employed by the workplace they left without having to pay back their windfall, an Audit Office report has found

Ten public servants who took a voluntary redundancy package were re-employed by the workplace they left without having to pay back their windfall, an Audit Office report has found.

More than 4,000 staff were released from the public sector in Northern Ireland through 23 voluntary schemes in 2015-16, at an estimated cost of £171m.

Within the Civil Service alone, the reduction equated to just over 9% of the total full-time equivalent staff in March 2015.

However, an Audit Office report found that this resulted in skills shortages, an increase in expenditure on agency staff, and also, in some workplaces, a negative impact on staff morale.

The report also found that 10 individuals who left under the voluntary exit scheme were re-employed by five employers - "either for specific skills or on an agency basis to manage business needs".

Those employers include the Department of Environment, Department of Regional Development, Libraries NI, Agrifood and Biosciences Institute and the Western Health Trust.

Under public service rules any individual who rejoins after taking a redundancy payment must repay their compensation. However, the report clarified that re-employment via an agency or on a consultancy basis would not trigger the repayment.

The Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) was paid for through a Treasury loan as part of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

In total, 4,383 staff in Northern Ireland departed under a value-for-money scheme designed to reduce the size of the official payroll.

While a small number of public bodies noted increased productivity in service delivery and improvements in staff skills and many reported operating efficiencies, others found negative consequences. More than 10 departments or arm's-length bodies recorded deterioration in staff morale and almost as many lost key skills.

Auditor general Kieran Donnelly said: "Voluntary exit schemes in future years should be based on detailed workforce planning.

"Over time, it will be important to demonstrate that savings have been sustained and have not had a negative impact on staff skills, morale or service delivery."

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