Minister for Finance and Personnel, Arlene Foster, provided an update on the Northern Ireland Civil Service’s (NICS) Voluntary Exit Scheme during today’s Question Time. After confirmation from the Secretary of State that funding will be released for the scheme in accordance with the Stormont House Agreement, allocations from the transformation fund were authorised for the first exits to take place. This will see 867 staff leave the NICS by the end of September and a further 763 by the end of November. These departures will save approximately £48m per year. The Minister also assured that the public service supplied by the NICS will not be compromised by the reduction in staff with a range of measures being put in place, including redeployment arrangements for posts left vacant, to ensure that the high quality service remains.
The Minister then discussed 2015-2016 budget pressures in light of the ongoing crisis in welfare reform and the Stormont House Agreement. Mrs Foster highlighted that “Failure to implement welfare reform has put at risk the Budget flexibilities negotiated in the Stormont House Agreement, which included the flexibility to repay both the £100 million reserve claim in 2014-15 and the £114 million reduction in our Budget for the non-implementation of welfare reform from capital budgets.” Agreeing Welfare Reform and getting the financial package agreed at Stormont House is essential as “we really need to have the flexibilities that were agreed in the initial Stormont House Agreement to allow us to proceed with our Budget.”
During Question Time the Minister also discussed the NAMA inquiry, devolution of corporation tax, audit of Departmental spending, public access to Stormont Estate and the cost of a segregated education system.