Belfast Telegraph

Civil Service voluntary payoffs won't solve deficit: Warning

By Chris Kipatrick

Plans to offer up to 10,000 civil servants voluntary redundancy packages costing tens of millions of pounds are deeply flawed, leading academics have warned.

The Executive has instead been urged to follow the example of the Republic in how to tackle the deficit.

The unprecedented redundancy scheme is part of the agreement brokered by the DUP and Sinn Fein with the Treasury for the £100m loan that bailed out the Executive.

There are 212,000 public sector employees in Northern Ireland, about 24,000 of whom work in the Civil Service. There are another 74,000 in the NHS, 65,000 in education and 10,000 in the police. More work in local government. The Executive hopes to save around £160m through public service redundancies. But two senior academics yesterday warned against sweeping voluntary redundancy schemes.

Professor Neil Gibson, director of Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre, said natural wastage would see numbers within the Civil Service drop by around 4% annually.

"You do have people leaving every year - an older age group in a number of grades in the Civil Service - so that's going to happen anyway," he said.

"It's not to say there isn't a role for voluntary redundancy schemes. But if you are going to go through the scale of cuts outlined at the moment, you couldn't think that voluntary redundancy schemes would be the sole solution.

"The Republic had much bigger cuts and that's not the route they took to solve that problem. It was a much more radical approach to reduce costs.

"Redundancies could be a component of a restructuring process but you would need to be comforted it wasn't the sum total of what you were going to do.

"Is this the best use of £100m of the punters' money? I'm not sure the private sector would pay £100m of its money to people who were going to retire anyway."

Muiris MacCarthaigh, a lecturer in public administration at Queen's University, also said lessons could be learned from the Republic. The approach there included reductions in pay.

"There are always choices and there are dangers of running into something like voluntary redundancies without saying, 'what do we want to do, where do we want to reduce numbers, how are we going to manage skills?'

"In the Republic it's a leaner, more efficient service. They talk about natural wastage - people retire and you don't recruit - and that's what they started off with in the Republic.

"Voluntary redundancy is fine, but I think it's fanciful. It may be part of the ingredients but you can't avoid looking at other measures as well."

Belfast Telegraph


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