More than 2,400 public sector workers have already left their jobs under Stormont’s generous voluntary exit scheme – with a similar number leaving over coming weeks and months.
The voluntary redundancy packages – which have seen average payouts of almost £40,000 – involve Stormont borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds of money borrowed by Stormont in a bid to cut the size of Northern Ireland’s large public sector.
The current tranches of redundancies are predicted to cost £184 million, but generate annual savings of approximately £160 million a year thereafter.
Responding to a News Letter Freedom of Information request, Stormont’s Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) said that 2,409 full-time-equivalent staff had left under the scheme by December.
Of those, 1,296 were employed by the Northern Ireland Civil Service (about five percent of its total workforce), with the remainder coming from other parts of the public sector.
Last October the Northern Ireland Civil Service employed some 25,802 people (some as part time staff – the full time equivalent staff number was 24,156).
In the first five tranches of the exit scheme, more than 4,200 public sector workers have been given approval to leave. Of those, 2,296 (53 per cent) were identified by the civil service as being from a Protestant background, and 1,970 (46 per cent) from a Catholic background – roughly in line with the religious breakdown of the civil service.
In 2013 (the most recent year for which community background statistics available), the overall composition of the Northern Ireland Civil Service was 52 per cent Protestant and 48 per cent Catholic.
However, the statistics show that more women than men are leaving under the scheme – something which will decrease female representation in the public sector.
Across the public sector, 53 per cent of those approved to go under the scheme are women, while 47 per cent are men.
Across the Northern Ireland Civil Service last October – at a point when the first staff had already left under the scheme – female staff made up 50.5 per cent of all staff.
Last year trade unions threatened to take legal action in an attempt to abolish a cap of £95,000 on the taxpayer-funded payoffs to the most senior and longest serving public sector workers.
Huge debt to pay for scheme - but major savings
The Stormont House Agreement allows the Executive to use £700 million of borrowing – which was meant to be for major capital projects such as new road schemes – to pay off around 20,000 civil servants (although it is now likely to be closer to 10,000).
The Executive’s budget – which the Assembly passed in January despite opposition – states: “It is considered that this remains an effective way to deliver a voluntary exit scheme.
“Each £100 million of borrowing will cost between £3 million and £4 million a year in loan repayments, but will yield annual savings in excess of £50 million.
“These are savings that can be used to deliver other priorities.”