Election Office boss can envisage co-location base

Graham Shields.

Graham Shields.

The outgoing Chief Electoral Officer, Graham Shields, has suggested Electoral Office staff could co-locate with Derry City and Strabane District Council following an ongoing restructuring process.

Mr Shields told members of the councils’ Governance and Strategic Planning Committee it was one possible outworking of the rationalisation plan, which is out for consultation until January.

One of the options is that three regional electoral offices be retained, in addition to the main Belfast base.

Mr Shields told the committee: “I would want to see an office in this city.”

He said joint accommodation in the city centre would be ideal.

Mr Shields explained that the reasons for the controversial restructuring were three-fold.

Digitisation has been working extremely well in Britain since 2014, and when it’s live here in 2017 will result in a substantial reduction in “paper-shuffling” work, 89 per cent of which will be performed digitally, he said.

The office also wished to “normalise” the service and saw a greater role for councils in future, in line with the Republic of Ireland and Britain.

He said it was also about sustainability, noting that the office’s annual budget fell from £2.6m in 2010/11 to £2m in 2016/17 and that it will continue to fall to £1.85m at the end of the current Comprehensive Spending Review period in 2020.

Mr Shields told the members that the electoral office budget was dropping but costs continued to go up and that “things have to change”.

He said he expected an announcement on the restructuring in early to mid-February following the consultation and quizzed about job losses said the projected reduction in Electoral Office staff numbers was from 44 to 35.

He told the committee that a voluntary exit scheme is already oversubscribed.