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Welfare reform stalemate stymies Civil Service job cull

By Noel McAdam

Hundreds of civil servants are facing uncertainty as the go-ahead for Stormont's public sector jobs cull hangs in the balance.

The massive Stormont exit scheme, which is designed to shed 20,000 public sector jobs, may have to be formally suspended in the next few weeks.

Cash to finance the first tranche of voluntary pay-offs needed to have been secured by this month for the scheme to roll out on time.

But the on-going stalemate over welfare reform means access to £200m in loans promised in the Stormont House Agreement is not in place.

The result is a future of uncertainty for hundreds of civil servants who had expected to be able to leave their posts from September.

The plan also formed a key part of the Executive's plans to save money by hugely reducing the public sector wages bill.

Approximately 2,800 full-time equivalent Civil Service posts are to be axed under the scheme - as part of 20,000 public sector jobs overall - and the first tranche had expected to be allowed to go on September 30.

Almost 7,300 people across all departments applied for the scheme and around 1,200 civil servants have already received conditional offers.

The head of the Civil Service, Dr Malcolm McKibben, has been working on a breakdown of the likely savings from the scheme and his report had been expected by the end of July.

But a spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Personnel said yesterday there was "no update" from the last statement on the scheme.

In June Finance Minister Arlene Foster told the Assembly committee that monitors her department that it was important the scheme was being rolled out by August at the latest. "We have predicated the budget on the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement so that we can move ahead on the voluntary exit scheme," she said.

"Do not forget that that is a fundamental part of departmental savings. Obviously, we have to give people a chance to plan.

"The conditional letters have gone out. If we have not got that money in place, it will have a huge impact on departmental savings plans, because the pay bill savings are there in the plans for this year, not next year."

The DUP minister also warned: "Therefore, if we are to have the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which includes access to the voluntary exit scheme money, we have to see movement on welfare reform very, very soon.

"That has to happen, otherwise the budget, which has been predicated on welfare reform happening, will not go ahead."

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