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Workload fears after 3,000 civil servants quit

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/07/2016

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir
Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir

Northern Ireland civil servants have been warned not to take on any extra work as it was confirmed that almost 3,000 of their colleagues have left.

Nipsa, the largest Civil Service union, also stressed the redundancies will have a "significant impact" in Government departments.

Latest figures reveal that a total of 2,996 have left their posts under the voluntary exit scheme (VES) initiated by Stormont ministers aimed at slimming down the public sector and saving millions of pounds. The Executive has been given access to around £200m of additional borrowing from the Treasury to finance the job cuts.

However, there have been reports at Stormont committees recently that some departments are already suffering from a skills shortage.

Nipsa general secretary Alison Millar said: "We are acutely aware of the impact VES has had on members and with almost 3,000 posts out of the system this is having a significant impact on the delivery of service.

"Members are reminded that this is a health, safety and wellbeing issue, and members should not take on additional work because of the impact of VES."

Her warning came as Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir confirmed there had been no recruitment of temporary staff to fill the gaps.

The Sinn Fein man made clear, however, that people who had left the Civil Service could still undertake work for it in the future.

In a written Assembly answer, he said: "Information relating to former NICS staff being employed through an employment agency is not held by my department.

"There is nothing in the rules of the NICS compensation scheme to prevent a beneficiary of the scheme taking up employment subsequently to undertake work for the Civil Service through an employment agency."

MLAs have been told of one Government department that has lost more than two-dozen "critical" staff.

And the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEARA) may not be able to replace all of them.

One section of the former Department of the Environment, which is now subsumed in DEARA, lost more than 100 staff under the massive voluntary exit scheme launched last year.

David Small, who is now head of the environment and marine group in the new department, said: "(We) have identified up to about 25 posts that are, I believe, critical. We will fill some, but we may not be able to backfill.

"If someone is successful from elsewhere in the group, we may, as a consequence, have to run another post vacant."

Mr Small, who previously headed the delivery service group, said the entire department was having to manage both its headcount and its budget, with spending cuts likely.

He told the Assembly committee monitoring the new department: "We have identified areas where we feel we need to replace those skills, and we are doing something about that, but we will be running with reduced headcount and reduced budget.

"We will have to manage our way through this year and the years ahead very carefully."

He was responding to Alliance Party leader David Ford, who asked if there had been specific problems in losing specialist as opposed to general staff.

Belfast Telegraph

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