Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, addressed the Civil Service Voluntary Exit Scheme during today’s Question Time. The scheme closed for applications on the 27 March 2015 and the selection process has now begun. Successful applicants will receive notification of an exit date and a quote from Civil Service pensions staff to help decide whether they wish to accept the offer. Staff will then begin to leave in tranches from September 2015 to March 2016. Maintaining business continuity will be an important part of the process and measures will be put in place to make sure vital posts will be covered. Over 7,000 applications were received – more than covering the estimated 2,400 required. However the process could be jeopardised by the stalling Welfare Reform legislation. As part of the Stormont House Agreement £700m has been promised as a public-sector transformation fund. A portion of this has been ear marked to fund the Voluntary Exit Scheme. Failure to agree Welfare Reform could put these funds at risk – “It is, therefore, imperative that we move forward with welfare reform and, indeed, all aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.”
The Minister also provided his assessment of the non-domestic rates revaluation. 73,000 business properties have been revalued using up-to-date market evidence to help re-distribute the rating burden in a fairer way. The new values will be used to calculate business rate bills from 1 April 2015. The Minister described the process as “the right thing to do and has helped to rebalance the rating system. We could not have continued to ask commercial ratepayers to pay business rates that are shared out on the basis of 2001 rental levels given the fundamental changes that have taken place in the way in which people live, work, shop and go about their business “. However the redistribution means that “there are winners and losers”. For example the revaluation may prove more beneficial to high street stores and town centres and less well for modern convenience stores and large edge-of-town food stores – “This reflects their success in the real world and mirrors the relative decline of many of our traditional shopping areas. At the end of the day, it is not LPS or DFP that decides who should pay more or who should pay less; the property market has already done that”.