Question Time: Agriculture - Monday 12 January 2015

The Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill was asked to outline the total anticipated cost of the implementation of the Northern Ireland food and animal information system at the start of Oral Question Time. The minister sated that her intention was to procure an ICT system to replace the animal and public health information system (APHIS) was notified in the Official Journal of the European Union in the first week of July 2014. The value of the contract was given as from £56 million to £65 million, excluding VAT, over an anticipated lifetime of 15 years. That value was based on the projection and estimates employed in the outline business case. It includes the costs of the initial development and testing of the NI food animal information system (NIFAIS), support for the migration of data and transitioning from DARD’s existing systems. The anticipated cost also covers the system’s support and maintenance over its 15-year lifetime and any further development, enhancement or upgrade that may be required within that period.

Food Franchise at Tollymore Forest Park and Beef and Sheep Farming were another two topics that the Minister had to deal with during Oral Questions.

During the Ministers 15 minute period of Topical Question she was asked by Mr Ramsey to outline how the Civil Service Voluntary Exit Scheme programme will affect her staffing complement.The Minister stated that the draft budget for DARD envisages that we will reduce our staffing by around 300 posts by the end of September 2015. For the second half of 2015-16, that would effect a saving of £5·6 million and an annual saving of around £11·2 million thereafter. We anticipate staff leaving the Department under the voluntary exit scheme from the autumn of 2015. The 300 posts will be spread widely across the functions of the Department, but it is not yet possible to be precise about which posts or functions will be affected. My priority will be to continue to deliver services to our customers in the most efficient and professional way, but this may mean changes to services and how we deliver them. My officials have commenced a number of reviews of the Department’s structures and operating models to identify where the reductions will come from and how services will need to change. The Department is committed to a review of advisory services and the development of our customer contact model. We are also exploring the greater use of new technologies and digital services to achieve further savings.

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