MPs who met a delegation of politicians, union representatives and staff from the under-threat DVA office in Co Londonderry have been told its closure would “knock the wind out of Coleraine”.
Some of those whose jobs are at risk if a decision is taken to close the centre, which employs 300 people including many locals, were part of a delegation visiting London yesterday to make a final plea for the centre to be saved.
The Department of Transport in Westminster made a proposal two years ago to centralise its service at the DVLA Swansea headquarters, and close 39 regional offices across the UK.
A decision on the future of the Coleraine office had been expected this month but is now due early in the New Year.
Centre worker Clare Wilson travelled with various local representatives, including the mayors of Coleraine and Ballymoney, the president of the Causeway Chamber of Commerce, a NIPSA union representative and politicians from the main parties, as well as UUP peer Lord Empey.
The delegation presented a petition at 10 Downing Street containing 40,000 signatures opposing the closure of the local DVA base.
During a meeting with MPs they presented what they called a strong business case for retaining the Coleraine office. Alliance MLA Anna Lo has previously said shutting the office would result in the loss of £22m a year for the Northern Ireland economy.
Yesterday, Coleraine Mayor David Harding said the community across Northern Ireland has united to support staff at the office.
“Everyone is absolutely 100 per cent across this,” he said.
“What we have been trying to do over the last 18 months is build up confidence in Coleraine, by bringing jobs and investment. Closing the DVA centre would really knock the wind out of Coleraine.”
Mr Harding said standards at the office are as good as, if not better than, other areas in the UK and added that he has “real sympathy” for staff.
Mrs Wilson, a mother-of-two, is from Coleraine and has worked in the DVA centre since getting her first job in the civil service 27 years ago.
She said it is a very challenging time for staff especially in the run-up to Christmas, but added that people are maintaining a hopeful attitude.
“Until that decision is made there will always be a level of fear for the future,” Clare told the News Letter.
“It is always there in the background, but the staff have really rallied round.
“We are not even thinking about redeployment options, we are interested in keeping the services in Coleraine. The majority of people calling us have said they want to have a Northern Ireland service to deal with Northern Ireland people.”
A DVLA spokesperson said they could not confirm when the final decision would be taken but said they are “considering how best to ensure that motorists in Northern Ireland can continue to access the services they need as quickly and conveniently as possible whilst having parity of service with motorists in the rest of the UK”.