Question Time: Finance and Personnel Monday 16 February 2015

Judith Cochrane asked the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, how he plans to tackle the high rate of sickness absence in the Civil Service during today’s Question Time. “Managing attendance and reducing sick absence is a key priority in the Civil Service, and the work of all Departments in managing their sickness absence must continue and, indeed, intensify in some areas to ensure that the targets set out in the Programme for Government are achieved.” Mr Hamilton has asked his officials to review Civil Service policies and procedures and consider any solutions or strategies that will help ensure ministerial targets are met. Mrs Cochrane is concerned about the high level of sick days lost (accounting for around 30% of absence) through stress related illness. The Minister echoed the concern and pointed to initiatives such as the occupational health service and Carecall that are available to employees to help confront the problem.

The Minister continued to discuss the future of the Civil Service when questioned about the voluntary exit scheme (which offers employees the opportunity to voluntarily leave the Civil Service in return for compensation) and how much saving it might bring. Plans are at an advanced stage – the scheme will launch on 2 March 2015 and will be open to virtually all civil servants. Those selected will leave in tranches between 30 September 2015 and 31 March 2016. The objective of the scheme is to permanently reduce the pay bill for 2015-16 and beyond. It is anticipated that approximately £26m will be saved in 2015-16 and £88m a year thereafter. These figures however assume that the complete target of full-time jobs will be suppressed however they are not definitive given the voluntary nature of the scheme.

Mr Hamilton also answered questions on banking and access to finance, the 2015 spending review and the proposed Northern Ireland Investment Fund. Also discussed during the topical questions period was the civil servants pay claim, teacher training colleges, VAT in the hospitality sector and the meeting with the Welsh Finance Minister.

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