Rules in the civil service will allow local public sector workers to take jobs closer to home when the new DARD headquarters opens in Ballykelly, the Minister responsible has confirmed.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed this week that “under wider civil service rules” people from the North West who currently have to travel to Belfast will be able to apply to work in Ballykelly instead.
She had been asked for an update on the proposed decentralisation of her departmental headquarters to Ballykelly, and about whether civil servants from the North West will be able to move rather than travel to Belfast.
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood asked: “When that move is likely to be fulfilled”
Mrs O’Neill replied: “The update is that we were up there over the past number of weeks and saw the demolition of some of the existing buildings on the site. We are full steam ahead in making the move and that transition with all our staff. We are on target, as we said we would be, to be there in early 2017. I am delighted with progress being made. I meet regularly with the chair of the board that has been tasked with taking the project forward. We are very content with the approach that is being taken. Work is ongoing to engage with staff and to make sure that everybody is content in moving forward. As I said, it is full steam ahead.”
Mr Eastwood asked a follow up question: “Will civil servants from the north-west be able to avail themselves of any potential vacancies that will arise from people not wanting to go to Ballykelly so that far fewer people will have to travel the Belfast road in the mornings?”
Mrs O’Neill said: “In the past number of months, we have published the numbers of people who would be keen to move, whether to the headquarters at Ballykelly, to the fisheries division in Down or to Rivers Agency or Forest Service in Fermanagh and Tyrone.
“That clearly showed the numbers of people who work in the public service who want to find a better work-life balance. I was very enthused by the fact that so many staff wanted that. We have a bit of a lead-in period because we are allowing staff to make the transition.
“As part of those changes, under the wider Civil Service rules, there will be opportunities for staff to move out of DARD or into DARD, and that will facilitate the staff in the north-west that you are talking about.”
Despite the huge levels of interest in making the move to Ballykelly cited by the Agriculture Minister, existing DARD staff have overwhelmingly stated they wish to remain in Belfast.
A total of 86 per cent in the said in a survey that they want to stay put when the switch to Ballykelly goes ahead. Those staff who wish to remain in Belfast are expected to be asked to change departments.