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£500k bonuses paid at ‘failing’ Northern Ireland agency

Almost £500,000 in bonuses has been handed out to civil servants at a government agency which was the subject of a damning Stormont watchdog report, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The Northern Ireland Planning Service was heavily criticised by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee for “consistently failing” to meet targets over a long period. The committee found customer satisfaction levels had fallen from 76% to 32% in the last decade, with significant differences in performance levels between divisional offices.

Yet it has emerged that some civil servants were still paid huge bonuses — despite a series of high-profile failures. Payouts went to staff at divisional offices which failed to meet basic targets for processing planning applications.

Documents released by the Planning Service reveal 3,178 bonus payments totalling £457,263 were made to staff in the last six financial years. Some £348,378 was paid in non-consolidated bonuses, with a further £108,885 in “special bonuses”.

The details were obtained by the Belfast Telegraph after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The Planning Service refused to reveal the identities of those who received a bonus because they regard it as “personal information”, which is exempt from disclosure under FOI.

The Planning Service is headed by chief executive Cynthia Smith. She, along with Marianne Fleming, director of corporate services; Anne Garvey, director of operations; and director of strategic planning, Tom Clarke, make up the agency’s top level management board. It is not known whether any of these four received bonuses.

Separate documents obtained by this newspaper reveal the total included £216,330 in bonuses paid to staff at six divisional planning offices.

Yet just one of those offices — based in Omagh — met every target for processing applications, and in only two of the six financial years.

Some £34,790 in special and non-consolidated bonuses were paid to staff at the Downpatrick office — which failed to hit a single target for processing applications in any of the six years — and which was singled out for criticism in the PAC report. Last month's report also found that four officials who oversaw the flagship IT project, e-PIC — which is lagging four years behind schedule and £7million over budget — were given bonuses totalling £60,000.

SDLP Assembly member Patsy McGlone, who is a member of the PAC, said he was astonished by the bonus payments. “It is unbelievable that officials have been given bonuses for not meeting targets,” he said.

The Planning Service was unable to provide details of the reasons why bonuses were awarded, or which officials had received payments. Last month’s PAC report found the planning applications system used by the Planning Service was “not fit for purpose”.

A spokesman for the Planning Service said the special bonus scheme rewarded “exceptional performance”.

Belfast Telegraph


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