1,200 more Northern Ireland civil servants told they can go... but only if Treasury releases loans
Hundreds more Northern Ireland civil servants have received offers of voluntary redundancy - even though the Stormont scheme to slim down the public sector is in limbo.
A further 1,200 staff have been given conditional offers in the past week as part of plans to cut 20,000 jobs, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The second tranche of individual offers has gone out from Finance Minister Arlene Foster, under which individual civil servants would be able to leave at the end of November.
It is on top of the initial offers to the first group of around 1,200 civil servants, who are waiting to hear confirmation that they can quit by the end of September.
It comes as the main Civil Service union warned staff will be "demoralised" if it turns out they are not permitted to leave when expected. Confirmation that a second pool of civil servants has been contacted is being interpreted by some that Stormont expects to gain access to around £200m in Treasury loans to fund the redundancies.
Mrs Foster made clear the money needed to be in place for August to allow the scheme to "roll out".
A statement from her department yesterday confirmed: "A further 1,200 conditional offers have been made to the second tranche of staff, with the intention that those who accept the offers will leave at the end of November.
"This is subject to compensation funding being confirmed by the end of August.
"If confirmation is not received, then the scheme will not proceed to the timetable planned, and anticipated pay-bill savings will be delayed."
The Department of Finance and Personnel said it wanted to ensure it was fully prepared "to be able to implement the scheme in accordance with its plan in order to achieve the anticipated pay-bill savings".
Brian Campfield, general secretary of the biggest public sector union, the Northern Ireland Public Servants Association (Nipsa), said it would be a major blow if staff expecting to exit were prevented from leaving.
"It's demoralising for those who have set their hearts on going, and if they are then told they cannot leave when expected, it is likely to have an effect on productivity," he said.
Nipsa is broadly opposed to the scheme but cannot prevent individual members from applying under it, as they have in their hundreds.
"I think it is crazy to use borrowed money to invest in the running down of public services," Mr Campfield said.
"But from the point of view of officials, there is an internal logic in trying to maintain the original timetable. I think a lot of individuals are frustrated because there is so much uncertainty."
The senior trade unionist said some were viewing the new exit offers as evidence that Stormont must have access to the funds needed.
He said: "Maybe they have, but that is not what we are being told. There is no clearance on the money."