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Exit scheme for Northern Ireland civil servants now in doubt

By Noel McAdam

Exit offers to more than 1,000 civil servants could be stymied as the budget crisis at Stormont deepens, it has been confirmed.

A total of 7,285 people applied for the voluntary redundancy scheme but the £700m set aside in Government loans to finance it is now in doubt because the Stormont House Agreement reached between the five main Assembly parties is in limbo.

Around 1,200 people across all departments have received conditional offers and are expecting to receive final details of the pay-offs they will receive next week.

They will then have a further 10 days, until the end of the month, to decide whether they are willing to go in September under the scheme, which is designed to shed 20,000 public sector jobs eventually.

But the head of the Civil Service, Dr Malcolm McKibben, yesterday confirmed doubts have arisen over the entire project.

He told the Assembly committee monitoring the Department of Finance, which is overseeing the scheme, that uncertainty around the budget "means that the funding for the scheme cannot be confirmed at present and therefore no firm dates for exit can be guaranteed".

Finance Minister Arlene Foster's department told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is anticipated approximately 2,800 full time equivalent Civil Service posts will be released under the scheme. Those in receipt of conditional offers, even if they confirm acceptance, may not leave on September 30 if funding is not confirmed."

Mrs Foster is due to present her proposed budget - predicated on the basis that welfare reform will be resolved - to the Assembly next Tuesday, before the finance committee is asked to fast-track the legislation.

But the impasse over the benefits changes shows no sign of receding with Sinn Fein and the SDLP also wary of further cuts to the block grant from Chancellor George Osborne.

Meanwhile, another committee has been told two-thirds of civil servants in one department who want to quit are not being allowed to go - at least for now.

A total of 459 people in the Department of the Environment applied for the scheme but only 156 have received formal conditional offers. Around seven out of 10 of the 156 are expected to accept, saving the department £2.2m in the current financial year.

DoE permanent secretary Leo O'Reilly confirmed the 156 were selected strictly on a "value for money" basis.

Story so far

The jobs exit scheme in the Civil Service under the Stormont House Agreement is the first to get under way. A total of 2,800 full-time equivalent posts are expected to be lost in the Civil Service over the next year. But it will then be followed by other sectors including health and education, as Stormont's Executive seeks to cut 20,000 public sector jobs as part of a wider scheme to rebalance the economy. The corollary, however, is the devolution of a lower corporation tax rate to boost the private sector, which is also in jeopardy from the current political stalemate.

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