The Retention of Jobs and Benefits Office Posts and Services in Omagh.

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:00 pm on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party 7:00 pm, 27th January 2009

We are still in the midst of a consultation — there are only proposals on the table, and no decisions have been made. I am keen that there will be no diminution of service to our constituents, who are the people who urgently require the services provided by the Social Security Agency.

I must address a point that was made by one of Martina Anderson’s colleagues. In the latest weekly sideswipe at my Department, he said of the review:

“It would create further levels of unemployment reducing staff levels, with up to 490 job losses.”

That is totally wrong, but it is not surprising — Sinn Féin really must move on from that type of thing.

I am all too aware of the economic downturn and the need to ensure sufficient staffing to address increased unemployment registers. However, contrary to speculation, additional resources that were secured to address the current economic position do not remove my desire to improve the service. Central to the issue that we are discussing is the customer — the ordinary person in the street or the townland who requires our services and who should receive benefits if they are entitled to them.

I remind Members that the proposals are simply that — proposals. They are out for public consultation. I will listen carefully to all the views expressed and will not make any decisions until the consultation is complete. Mr McElduff mentioned the need for an equality impact assessment: that will be carried out. I gave Mr Doherty and his colleagues that assurance when I met them yesterday. I have also outlined areas where I have concerns.

There are shrill voices that make lots of noise but are devoid of any appreciation of the facts. Those people call on me to suspend the public consultation, but they will have to wait. The public shall have their say, because that is their right. My Department and I will then do what is best for the people who use the agency, for the agency itself and for those who work in it.

Members raised many issues, most of which I addressed in my speech. If I have not answered any of those issues fully, I will write to the relevant Members.

Adjourned at 7.19 pm.