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Cuts to 300 jobs a false economy, say MLAs

Fears have been voiced over the loss of 300 jobs in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The proposal in the Executive's draft budget would save the public purse an estimated £5.6m next year and around £11.2m in future years if successfully implemented.

But members of the Assembly's agriculture committee have warned of a loss of expertise and sounded alarm bells that the cost of consultants could defeat the purpose.

Minister Michelle O'Neill said the plan envisaged achieving the 300 job reductions by September of this year.

SDLP member Joe Byrne said: "It is critical that any redundancy scheme be completed on a voluntary basis and that the reduction of jobs be divided up between spending areas across the department.

"The SDLP has serious concerns about the impact on such services, as that reduction in staff is timetabled to happen in the middle of the budget year.

"The resulting reduction may cause the loss of valuable and irreplaceable skills. We are concerned that proposed staff reductions may cause the department to lean and depend on higher-costing consultants, which would ultimately defeat the point of using staff reductions to save money."

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Mrs O'Neill said the 300 posts will be spread widely across the functions of the department "but it is not yet possible to be precise about which posts or functions will be affected".

"My priority will be to continue to deliver services to our customers in the most efficient and professional way, but this may mean changes to services and how we deliver them," she said. "My officials have commenced a number of reviews of the Ddepartment's structures and operating models to identify where the reductions will come from."

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