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Voluntary exit scheme 'will see 10,000 public servants leave over four years'

Around 10,000 public servants in Northern Ireland are expected to leave under voluntary exit arrangements amid unprecedented and widespread reform, senior civil servants said.

The posts will be shed over four years and are half the number originally envisaged.

Colin Sullivan, director of strategic policy and reform, said: "I would think the ultimate figure at the end of the four years will be nearer to 10,000."

Dr Malcolm McKibbin, head of the civil service, said the £700 million scheme, funded by borrowing from Westminster, was a "blunt instrument" and there would be some readjustment needed to the workforce, with a reform programme of unprecedented scale ongoing.

He said the reduction in numbers would be introduced in a fashion which allowed public services to live within budget.

Initially it was estimated to cost £35,000 per head to release people, a figure originally thought to be enough to make 20,000 redundant.

However that has been revised because the average cost of the payments is expected to increase as time goes on.

Dr McKibbin said decision-makers do not consider 20,000 redundancies to be necessary and it was never a target.

Senior civil servants told Stormont's finance committee plans would be made to leave the organisation "leaner, fitter and more agile".

Major reforms like reducing the number of Stormont departments to nine and centralising of some functions are going on at the same time as the job losses.

Dr McKibbin added: "We cannot continue doing the same things in the same way with 17% less posts."

A system offering voluntary exit from the Northern Ireland Civil Service, as well as a separate mechanism for releasing members of the wider public sector, was established following the 2014 Stormont House talks.

Around a third of those who received offers to leave the civil service ultimately rejected them and opted to stay on, senior civil servants said.

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