First set of civil servants leave under exit scheme: Public sector to cut 20,000 jobs over next few years
The first civil servants taking voluntary redundancy from government departments left this week, it can be revealed.
A number of the initial tranche were entitled to go yesterday because of untaken holidays and other leave.
And in just three weeks' time, almost 900 overall will have departed with a further 1,200 over the next few months - saving about £90m on the Civil Service annual pay bill.
MLAs and trade unions have, however, warned the departures could lead to skill gaps in some areas and the drain will need to be carefully managed.
In one office within the Department of Social Development, for example, nine of the 19 staff are due to take the redundancies, aimed at slimming down Northern Ireland's public sector by 20,000 jobs over the next few years.
Despite the political deep-freeze which has lead to new talks over the status of the IRA and welfare reform, the exit scheme has been given the green light paid for by loans from the Treasury.
It is the only section of the Stormont House Agreement, reached between the five main Assembly parties last December, which has been allowed to go ahead.
More than 7,000 civil servants expressed an initial interest in the scheme and 1,200 exit offers were made, but only 864 staff took them up.
Department of Finance permanent secretary David Sterling told MLAs: "The £700m civil service voluntary exit scheme, which was agreed as part of the Stormont House Agreement, has faced uncertainty because of the continuing impasse over welfare reform."
He said its aim was to help Stormont balance its budget by shedding the equivalent of more than 2,400 full-time Civil Service posts - saving about £90m from its annual pay bill.
Mr Sterling said that following Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' announcement of funding being made available for the scheme last weekend, Finance Minister Arlene Foster - the only DUP minister left in post - authorised allocations to all government departments.
Mr Sterling said the scheme was "on track" to allow those people planning to leave on September 30 to do so but a number have already gone.
Nipsa, the largest public sector union here, is broadly opposed to the scheme but cannot prevent individual members from taking it up. It has voiced concerns at how the gaps left by people leaving will be managed. General Secretary Brian Campfield also told the Belfast Telegraph: "I think it is crazy to use borrowed money to invest in the running down of public services."