MLA ‘astonished’ at refurb

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A Strabane MLA says she has been left “astonished” after learning almost £1/4million was spent refurbishing the town’s Social Security Agency last year - despite it being earmarked for downgrading.

Under Department of Social Development (DSD) plans, the Strabane office is to be downsized - losing 37 jobs and Jobseekers, Income Support and Social Fund services.

Those staff posts and services are to be redeployed in Derry leaving Strabane with only a ‘front office service’.

Now Sinn Fein’s Michaela Boyle has learned, through Assembly questions to DSD minister Nelson McCausland, that only last year £220,000 was spent on the recent refurbishment of the town’s social security office.

“It is astonishing that while £220,000 has been spent on this refurbishment, Social Security Agency (SSA) management where undoubtedly engaged, and most likely at an advanced stage, in a parallel process of planning to downgrade the Strabane Office to a front office only service,” she says.

“The Minister states that the spend was necessary because a survey of the offices completed by the Department of Finance and Personnel in 2010/ 11 identified a number of health and safety, Disability Discrimination Act and maintenance requirements that required urgent attention. However, the nature of the refurbishment went far beyond what one would expect from such essential remedial works to include the provision of things like new carpets and plush new chairs in the canteen etc,” she says.