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'£200m will be saved by selling outdated civil service offices'

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/09/2007

The sell-off of Northern Ireland's civil service estate should free up around £200m for hospitals, schools and roads, the Assembly was assured yesterday.

Finance Minister Peter Robinson rejected accusations the blueprint to transform the civil service, involving the sale of 77 properties under the Workplace 2010 initiative, amounted to "selling the family silver".

Instead they involved "tarnished silver", he said - Portakabins and office blocks rather than buildings of historical or cultural interest.

Indeed of the 18 buildings in the Greater Belfast area currently owned by the Government, 14 would be either demolished or vacated once the refurbishment programme was complete.

Mr Robinson also announced an independent review on the future location of public sector jobs, to begin in a few months.

It is designed to determine where in the province the offices of the 11 government departments should be sited. Most of the political parties demand a fairer share-out across Northern Ireland away from Belfast.

But he also pledged the sell-off would not involve the loss of any civil service jobs or transfers to the private sector.

"As things stand we can also expect to get a capital payment in the region of about £200m to fund other projects such as roads, hospitals and schools within the Comprehensive Spending Review period" the Minister added.

A court injunction is currently prohibiting the Department of Finance & Personnel from inviting "best and final offers" under the scheme, following a legal challenge by one of the unsuccessful bidders which was lodged in the High Court during the summer.

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