I appreciate the contribution which public-service jobs can make to the economic and social development of local communities, and I intend to ensure that future Civil Service accommodation planning takes that into account. There are other factors too, such as the regional planning strategy, service delivery, new TSN, the implications for equal opportunity in the Civil Service and cost.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am at a loss to know whether that was a specific answer or merely a general aspiration. However, I will work on the aspiration. Does the Minister agree that the plans currently being announced in the Republic to decentralise a further 10,000 jobs from Dublin to regional towns is a good example to Northern Ireland, and particularly to places like Derry, Omagh and Ballymena?
With regard to Mr Ford’s last point about the Republic, I will ensure that the Department monitors developments and job dispersal in the South, and, indeed, elsewhere, to see what lessons can be learned for Northern Ireland.
With regard to the Member’s observations on my earlier reply, we are working on a programme of government, and I am putting forward proposals on different aspects of my department’s brief in that context. It would be premature for me to make particular commitments with regard to my portfolio, outside those which have already been agreed through the Executive Committee’s programme of government. I appreciate Members’ interests in this subject, interests that they will see reflected in that programme.
I have said that we are hoping to produce a programme of government which will include an overall review of Civil Service accommodation and, I hope, a clear policy on dispersal. It would be inappropriate at this stage to talk about precise locations and the Departments or branches that may be involved in any dispersal. Obviously, those decisions will be taken on the results of that review.
Is the Minister aware that East Antrim has one of the lowest numbers of public-sector jobs in any constituency in Northern Ireland and that Carrickfergus Borough Council has the fourth highest rate of unemployment in any borough council in Northern Ireland? Given that, will he look closely at relocating Departments in East Antrim?
A similar answer is appropriate here. I accept the case that can be made about the current distribution of Civil Service jobs across Northern Ireland, in either constituency or district council terms. When this is set against the various need indicators, including unemployment and long-term unemployment, the disparities show up in quite a marked way.
However, I cannot give specific undertakings at this point to favour or target any particular location. We have to undertake the review on a sound and sensible basis first and then see if the outcome of that review meets the shared expectations of the House.
I do not necessarily accept that ‘Shaping our Future’ closes the door on decentralisation in the way that the Member suggests. When, in my answer, I indicated that among the factors that we would take into account was the regional planning strategy, I meant that to imply that I regard ‘Shaping our Future’ as reinforcing the need for a review of our dispersal policy. The nature and terms of that review are going to be subject to Executive consideration, and there will be full consultation with the Finance and Personnel Committee as well.