Belfast Telegraph

More regional electoral offices could close next summer

More regional electoral offices in Northern Ireland could close next summer, the chief electoral officer said.

Many are not fit for purpose because they are old and have no facilities for the disabled, or contain too much unused space, Graham Shields added.

Most of the organisation's business is done using the postal service rather than face-to-face encounters with voters.

Offices in Newtownards and Ballymena are closing at the end of this month with staff transferring to Belfast and Newtownabbey.

Mr Shields said a number of premises could be shared with local councils to save money.

He added: "They don't provide suitable accommodation and the future of the organisation is going to be one which is smaller, both in terms of its staff and in the number of offices."

Major leases are to expire next summer, Mr Shields told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs at Westminster - and in future, the Electoral Office is likely to have a smaller footprint.

Shutting Newtownards and Ballymena will save £40,000.

The organisation has been under funding pressure and has been running a deficit for the last three years, using separate money allocated to run elections to make up the difference.

The chief electoral officer added: "Even if I had a blank cheque to have as many offices as I wanted, I would not want to stay in them as they are not fit for purpose."

He added: "The premises are old, the layout of the offices is not suitable and in many cases they have an excess of accommodation which is used at election time but in non-election years we are carrying substantial accommodation that just lies empty and it is not efficient to do that."

He said workers had been briefed about the future plans.

Separately, plans have been announced to allow voters in Northern Ireland to register electronically for elections.

Under the proposals, online registration would be introduced in Northern Ireland by 2019.

The measures are contained in a joint consultation by the Northern Ireland Office and the Electoral Office.


From Belfast Telegraph