Belfast Telegraph

Staff relocation decided by pulling names from hat for new super council in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Names were picked out of a hat to decide which council officials would be relocated as part of the shake-up of local government, an Assembly committee has heard.

As a result, a number of planning staff based in Omagh have had their jobs shifted to Magherafelt and even Coleraine.

But the move has caused stress, with some individuals finding it hard to cope with travelling up to 50 miles a day, an MLA warned.

Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff said: "Some people made a bid to stay where they had always been working and the only way it could be decided was for names to be drawn out of a hat.

"Some will say they were lucky to still have jobs at all, but at the human level this has caused quite a lot of upset."

He also told the Assembly's Environment Committee, which is overseeing the up-coming council transition: "A hat was used to draw out names for transfers from DoE Planning Service to the new councils. In some cases, names were drawn for relocation to places 40 and 50 miles away from the current work setting.

"In at least a couple of cases that I am aware of, the individuals cannot cope with it in terms of stress and having particular health circumstances and conditions," he added.

The West Tyrone MLA said at least a dozen people had been forced to commute 40 to 50 miles.

Senior DoE official Linda MacHugh said, however: "My knowledge of it is that the starting point was not just drawing people out of a hat to choose where they were going. There was a staff preference scheme, whereby staff were asked to identify where they would like to be located.

"One of the issues was that we had to wait for some time, in some cases, for councils to determine where their planning office was going to be.

"My colleagues, in planning and central HR (human resources), worked over a lengthy period of time with local government and staff to try to resolve the issues as far as possible. My understanding is that, by and large, most people got their first choice or, if not, their second choice of location."

Omagh has amalgamated with Fermanagh as one of the new super councils, resulting in staff losses, although the new authorities hope to avoid compulsory redundancies.

DoE official Peter Gregg said: "There will be a reasonable public expectation that, when you amalgamate any organisations, you reduce the size of your workforce."

A DoE spokeswoman said: "DoE currently has just over 500 planning staff, including part-time staff. Around 99% of those are being redeployed to posts within their first, second or third preferences.

"Less than 10 staff out of a total of over 500 have still to be found posts that fully meet their location preferences."

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