Belfast Telegraph

Voluntary redundancies 'logical'

Progressing a civil service severance scheme makes sense even if welfare reform crisis is not resolved, a senior Government official has conceded.

Dr Malcolm McKibbin said annual savings of up to £100 million could be made if voluntary redundancy plans were given the go ahead.

He said: " There is a logic in saying that this scheme should go ahead anyway and it's just a question of how we can fund it."

The proposal, which relies on £700 million of borrowing from Westminster, was among a range of measures agreed during the pre Christmas political deal at Stormont House.

Dr McKibbin who is head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service added: "If the welfare reform issue isn't sorted out in the pretty near future then clearly we are going to have to engage with the Treasury to see if access to this money can be obtained.

"Whether or not they will allow that to be pulled out of the Stormont House Agreement, I don't know."

The comments were made during a briefing to the finance scrutiny committee at Stormont.

Since March, a total of 7,285 people have applied, MLAs were told.

The package includes a month's pay for each year of service, up to a maximum of 21 months.

The first 1,200 successful applicants are expected to receive written quotes next Monday with the warning that any offer would be subject to funding being secured.

They could expect to leave by the end of September, the committee was told.

Independent MLA John McCallister claimed the Stormont Executive was "hurtling down" towards financial oblivion but warned that the redundancy scheme could create a potential skills shortage within the civil service.

The South Down representative said: "One of the last biggest exit schemes was in the police who then had to bring back a certain amount.

"That's one thing I wouldn't want to see in the voluntary exit scheme that we release people, borrowing £700 million only to find that you have a skills shortage."

Sinn Fein and the SDLP backed the Stormont House Agreement but subsequently vetoed the element of the deal that committed the Executive to implement the UK Government's welfare reforms which they claim will affect the most vulnerable.

The deadlock has brought the five party mandatory coalition to a financial cliff.

Next week Finance Minister Arlene Foster is expected to present her so-called fantasy budget which could buy more time but, without agreement over welfare the future of the power-sharing institutions remains in doubt.

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