Government Departments: Location

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 31st January 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel what plans he has to relocate any of the 10 Departments outside the Greater Belfast area.

(AQO 103/99)

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

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.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

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?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

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.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

If the Minister is considering the relocation of the Departments of Agriculture and Environment, will he take the west of the Bann into consideration?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

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.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

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?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

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.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I will rule out of order any further questions that are simply bids from constituencies for Departments over which the Minister may have no control — that does not include the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

In any general review of the Departments, will the Minister take into account the levels of unemployment in various council areas? I am thinking of his Department — Finance and Personnel — which is in my constituency.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I have to rule that out of order. The Minister has responded frequently and with great patience on this matter.

Photo of Gerry McHugh Gerry McHugh Sinn Féin

Does the Minister agree that his review of decentralisation will be bound by the document ‘Shaping our Future’ and that that document works against decentralisation? What will he do about that?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

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.