Belfast Telegraph

3,000 civil servants paid off but strains emerge in Northern Ireland public sector

By Noel McAdam

The Northern Ireland Civil Service voluntary redundancy scheme has ended after almost 3,000 jobs were shed, it has emerged.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir confirmed the exit scheme had now closed, and a total of 2,996 staff had left.

Their departures will result in eventual annual savings of £87m, the Sinn Fein minister said in a written Assembly answer.

However, at least one department is experiencing difficulties as a result of the loss of experience and expertise, MLAs have been told.

Problems facing the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs were exacerbated by the decision to move its headquarters 60 miles from Dundonald to Ballykelly.

DUP MLA William Irwin revealed yesterday that around 125 senior staff had left rather than agree to be relocated.

Alliance leader David Ford told a meeting of the DAERA committee there were growing concerns over a loss of environment and veterinary specialists.

DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen said that while she had "concerns" over the HQ move, with some staff "resistant to go", the department had also faced challenges over staffing as a result of the voluntary exit scheme.

And she reiterated the view of her Sinn Fein predecessor Michelle O'Neill that staff in other areas of the Civil Service were "keen" to be relocated to Co Londonderry.

The department's head of policy, Louise Warde Hunter, admitted it was facing a major issue over the move to Ballykelly, with the need to retain staff who had particular expertise in the field of agricultural administration.

The consequences of the UK's vote in favour of leaving the EU had added to that challenge, she said.

She added that while colleagues had been left "frustrated", the staffing issue was a matter of "squaring a very, particularly challenging, circle".

"Our priority, especially as a new department, is to keep the wheels on, keep the show going and to ensure that we prioritise even within our priorities," she told the committee.

The relocation to Ballykelly will see approximately 600 posts move - about 20% of the total departmental staff of 3,000.

Belfast Telegraph


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