Workers from Londonderry were randomly forced to relocate to Belfast after a voluntary trawl of Social Security Agency (SSA) staff across Northern Ireland failed to secure enough people for a newly centralised Appeals and Reconsiderations team.
Social Development Minister Maurice Morrow says he won’t be excluding staff from the local Londonderry Appeals and Reconsiderations team from the centralisation process, however, he promised he has a number of plans to create other job opportunities in Londonderry, Limavady and Strabane.
According to the Minister the centralisation will ensure a more effective service for claimants.
He says a search for volunteers was agreed as the best way forward following discussions with trade unions.
However, this didn’t secure enough staff and local workers had to be randomly selected for relocation.
Outgoing SDLP MLA and party leader Colum Eastwood asked the Minister “whether he will exclude staff from the Foyle Jobs and Benefits Office from the Relocation Plan for Appeals and Reconsiderations in order to protect the North West from the centralisation of services to Belfast.”
The Minister replied: “The Social Security Agency, as an agency of the Department for Social Development, is committed to being a regional organisation and currently has offices in every major town and city across Northern Ireland. In the North West, the Agency has more than 700 staff.
“It is however important for the Agency to strike a balance between meeting the needs of claimants and those of staff and in order to safeguard service delivery to claimants it is sometimes necessary to relocate staff to ensure that services can continue to be delivered in an efficient and effective manner.
“In setting up the new centralised Appeals and Reconsideration Team the underlying principle was that staff performing the function would relocate with the work. The Agency agreed a relocation approach with Trade Union Side, which included seeking volunteers from local offices across Northern Ireland.
“However, this approach did not secure sufficient staff to fill all of the posts and it was therefore necessary to undertake a random selection of staff currently involved in appeals and reconsideration work. Whilst the majority of staff did come from the Belfast Region it was necessary to include staff from Foyle Jobs and Benefits office along with a number of other offices where this work was previously undertaken.”
He did, however, promise more civil service jobs for Londonderry in the months and years ahead.
“I am committed to ensuring there are job opportunities created outside the Belfast area and the Agency recently announced a number of significant investments in the North West that has resulted in additional jobs opportunities with further increases likely in the future.
“This includes Foyle Jobs and Benefits office being selected as a Universal Credit Service Centre requiring approximately 150 staff the establishment of a document scanning facility in Limavady Jobs and Benefits Office creating up to 40 new jobs and the opening of a new Jobs and Benefits Office in Strabane.
“In addition, the Agency has recently relocated work undertaken on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from the Belfast Benefits Centre, Plaza site to the Centre’s Lisahally Processing Unit in order to secure jobs in the North West.”