Council to fight proposal to strip jobs from Down District

Council to fight proposal to strip jobs from Down District

28 November 2012

DOWN Council is to fight plans to transfer the jobs of Social Security Agency staff from Ballynahinch and Newcastle out of the district as part of a radical shake-up of services.

The Agency has embarked upon a major restructuring exercise which will see the transfer of all income support and jobseekers allowance services from its offices in Downpatrick, Newcastle and Ballynahinch to new centres in Newry and Lurgan.

The move, which was outlined earlier this year, proposed the transfer of a number of staff who work in Downpatrick dealing with income support and jobseekers allowances. But the Agency had a change of heart and the employees are to remain in the town and retrain to provide enhanced social fund services.

However, the Agency’s plans to downgrade the status of the Newcastle and Ballynahinch offices remains unchanged, but both will remain open. A number of staff who work in Newcastle are set to move to Downpatrick, but others, along with 20 workers in Ballynahinch, will have to transfer out of the district.

Local politicians are pleased there are to be no job losses in Downpatrick and that a number of staff in Newcastle will be moving to the Mount Crescent office. But they are concerned for staff at the Agency’s Crossgar Road base in Ballynahinch and some in Newcastle who face the prospect of having to work in Newry.

It was agreed at Monday night’s council meeting that a special taskforce the council established for retaining public sector jobs across the district would take up the fight for the Ballynahinch and Newcastle staff.

Councillor Walter Lyons said “time was of the essence” to retain the jobs of the Agency staff in Ballynahinch, comments endorsed by Councillor Garth Craig who said the plight of the staff in Newcastle must not be forgotten about. He said staff in Ballynahinch “would suffer great hardship if they had to work in Newry.”

Council chairman, Mickey Coogan, said the local authority taskforce was established to retain and enhance public sector job provision across the district.

“We need to build up a very strong business case to assist with our drive to enhance the district’s reputation as centre of public service excellence. The Downshire campus in Downpatrick has the capacity to accommodate more workers and we need to work to make this a reality,” he added.

Councillor William Dick backed moves to support the Social Security Agency staff in Newcastle and Ballynahinch and said plans by the Department of Agriculture to relocate its headquarters from Belfast to Ballykelly would impact on a number of its staff who live locally.

He secured across-the-board support for a proposal urging Down Council to write to Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill expressing its concern about the move. Councillor Dick argued there was no reason why DARD staff couldn’t relocate to Down District.