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Government sell-off plan a no-brainer: Robinson

Minister backing scheme to offload civil service buildings

By David Gordon

Plans to sell off Government buildings and rent them back again are a " no brainer", Finance Minister Peter Robinson has claimed.

Mr Robinson was voicing his strong support for the controversial Workplace 2010 initiative that will transfer some 80 civil service buildings to a new private sector landlord.

A court challenge against the process is due to begin today.

Workplace 2010 is Northern Ireland's biggest ever Private Finance Initiative programme.

It will involve Government accommodation being purchased by a contractor and rented back over a 20-year period. Offices are also to be changed into open plan settings under the scheme.

Mr Robinson made his comments in an interview with the magazine agendaNi.

The Stormont power-sharing executive is understood to have discussed Workplace 2010 last week. It has not yet announced its formal endorsement of the sell-off, but is not expected to block it.

The Finance Minister told the magazine the financial case for the PFI project was "very strong".

He said there was a need to improve the civil service estate and provide officials with modern facilities "that allow them to best do their job" .

"We need to do it at a time when clearly the kind of money needed using normal procurement methods is not available to us," Mr Robinson continued.

"Workplace 2010 allows us to move in a direction and in a way that will not seriously impact on the baseline we have for expenditure on accommodation.

"It seems to me to be a 'no brainer' that if you can get better accommodation for the same amount of money each year then you go for it."

The Workplace 2010 properties include Dundonald House and Castle Buildings at Stormont, the Interpoint in Belfast city centre and Ballymena and Coleraine County Halls.

Around a third of the buildings are already rented from the private sector under leasing agreements.

It was recently revealed in the Assembly that £97.8m had been spent by the Government in the past eight years upgrading properties on the sell-off list.

More than half of this expenditure related to a major upgrade programme for government-owned Jobs and Benefits offices. The Workplace 2010 contract is scheduled to be awarded next year. This could be delayed by the legal challenge due to begin today before a commercial court judge in Belfast.

It is being taken by a consortium called Partenaire, which had been one of four short-listed bidders for the contract.

The company lost out earlier this year when the shortlist was reduced to just two contenders.

Belfast Telegraph


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