Concerns are growing among job centre staff in Armagh over the future of their jobs in the city.
The decision by the Department of Communities to transfer Social Fund services out of Armagh has been slammed by MLA Cathal Boylan
“I made representations to the Minister to allay these frustrations and concerns,” said Mr Boylan. “Throughout this process staff have been kept in the dark and have raised a number of questions which are yet to be answered by the Department or the Minister.
“I received assurances from Minister Givan that he is committed to ensuring his Department continues to be a regional organisation that will deliver face to face services from a network of local offices, these assurances came just a handful of days prior to his announcement of a loss of services to branches across the North.
“I am sorely disappointed to receive word of this, I requested an urgent meeting but I hold reservations that this has been a time buying exercise in light of today’s revelations of a telephone service to be located at the Dungannon and Antrim branches. Therefore resulting in the closure of the existing Social Fund processing and support units including Armagh.
He added: “A further blow, the Department has decided to consolidate the delivery of Budgeting Loans, Maternity Grants, Funeral Payments, Winter Fuel and Cold Weather Payments from the current offices and consolidate into a central processing centre in Lisburn.
“Armagh simply cannot afford these jobs losses; it is a blow too far for the city. As well as the loss of jobs this will have a knock on effect on the entire local economy as yet another revenue stream is taken out of it and directed elsewhere.”
“This seems a counter-productive move. If the point is to save money then how is that achieved by either moving or losing highly trained individuals who have efficiency ratings so high that over the past six months they have been called in to help clear backlogs in Newry, Lurgan, Enniskillen and Dungannon?
“Sinn Féin Ministers have made efforts to decentralise departments and bring government funding to all regions of the north. This is a retrograde step; one that will damage Armagh and provide no tangible benefit to the Department or SSA that I can see.
“Both the Minister and the SSA need to explain their reasoning behind this move and meet with local representatives as a matter of urgency. I also have serious concerns about how and why this move is being carried out. I will be investigating if an Equality Impact Assessment been carried out in relation to the Armagh branch. We will not take this lying down.”