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Planning Service to lose 40% of its staff as DoE slashes 350 jobs

By Noel McAdam

A Northern Ireland Government department is planning to cut 350 jobs within the next year as the public spending squeeze begins to bite.

“This is the number of posts that need to be removed in order to live within our existing budget,” the Department of the Environment confirmed.

Officials have already said just over 270 of the total cull could be planners — almost 40% of the entire Planning Service — but the driver and vehicle authority, NI Environment Agency and local government policy branch are also likely to be hit.

An internal report concluded the Planning Service should reduce its staff numbers by 271 and their posts “should now be declared surplus in terms of affordability”.

And in a statement yesterday the DoE added: “(We) currently face in year pressures of around £16m. The Planning Service element of this £16m shortfall is estimated at £8.3m, the bulk of which (£6.4m) relates to the estimated reduction in planning receipts this financial year.

“The Department currently estimates that a further 350 posts will need to be removed from the Department this year in order to live within the existing levels of funding available to us. These posts will be located in all parts of the Department.”

Negotiations have opened with the main Civil Service union, the NI Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), to see whether the jobs can be redeployed inside the DoE or elsewhere within the devolved Government.

NIPSA assistant secretary Paddy Mackel said: “We are engaged with them with a view to redeployment but we have to be realistic that they may press ahead with this anyway.

“I cannot see however how any other department will have the capacity to take in professional planners and they cannot be redeployed within local government.”

Mr Mackel said the job cuts did not make political or economic sense.

“We already have a backlog of planning applications and on top of that if you reduce your planning service by 38% how can you hope to be in a position to assist economic recovery when applications start to pick up,” he asked. A DoE spokesman said: “DoE is not able to comment on the position in other Departments. The DoE has been working closely with the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) which is responsible for manpower planning across the wider Civil Service.

“DFP is confident that all surplus administrative staff in DoE can be redeployed although redeployment of surplus specialist staff will be less easy.”

The DoE spokesman also said: “This reduction in planning receipts arises from a 45% reduction in planning applications received since a high of 36,593 in 2004-05. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 planning applications will be received during the year 2010-11, much the same as in 2008-09 and 2009-10.”

The internal report also said the work of development plan teams in Ballymena, Craigavon, Downpatrick, Londonderry, Omagh “may have to be stopped, delayed or progressed at a significantly slower pace”.

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