Fifty-five new jobs will be created at the Armagh Jobs and Benefits Office.
They will be among 280 new jobs across Northern Ireland following the award of a contract to deliver services to claimants in Great Britain on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
There had previously been concerns over the future of staff in the Armagh office with a number of parties fighting to keep these jobs amid a number of other services pulling out of the city.
The contract is expected to have a value in excess of £16million over the two year period and the average salary is expected to be in excess of £19,000 for the posts which are expected to be mainly administrative grades.
The Armagh office will be the site for the delivery of the Personal Independence Payments posts as it has the necessary ICT infrastructure and accommodation.
Currently the jobs are only on a two year contract.
Announcing the new contract, Minister Givan said: “This is great news for Northern Ireland and this additional investment is clear acknowledgement by the Department of Work and Pensions that they value the high quality services currently being provided by our staff.
“These posts will all need to be fully operational by April 2017 and I can confirm that they will be shared between sites in Belfast and Armagh. I am committed to building on our relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions and will be soon visiting London to meet with their Ministers to discuss how we can provide further support.”
Ulster Unionist Assembly member Danny Kennedy has welcomed the news.
“This is a welcome boost to public sector employment within the local area,2 said Mr Kennedy.
“Only a matter of weeks before this announcement, I met with the Communities Minister to press him on the importance of retaining public sector jobs in the city of Armagh and the adverse impact there had been over recent years when various Government agencies had withdrawn from the Armagh area.
“Today’s announcement is most definitely a positive development and it is my sincere desire that the new jobs will complement the staff currently working at the Jobs & Benefits office in Armagh following concerns raised about the possible transfer of their roles to other locations.
“Mr Kennedy said he would continue to liaise with the Communities Department regarding current staffing arrangements at the Armagh Jobs & Benefits office and he expressed hope that the announcement of the new roles would serve as an encouraging sign regarding the future status of the Armagh Office.”
Sinn Fein’s Cathal Boylan had also been working closely with party colleague Mickey Brady MP to retain the jobs in the area.
“I am of course delighted and relieved to see that common sense has prevailed and the Minister has reversed his decision,” said Mr Boylan.
“There was no earthly reason to remove these jobs from an office that has been performing above and beyond the call of duty. While I’m glad the Minister has seen the error of his ways on this issue it has put the staff here through an undue amount of stress and worry.
“Both myself and my colleague Mickey Brady MP have worked closely with the staff for the past number of months to ensure jobs were retained; meeting with workers, SSA officials, Department officials and the Minister.
“Thankfully that work has paid off and hopefully the staff can go back to work now without having to worry about their livelihoods.”
Mr Brady said the original proposals would have been disastrous for the city.
“As well as the loss of jobs this would have had a knock on effect on the entire local economy as yet another revenue stream was taken out of the city,” he said.
“Right from the start this seemed like a retrograde step that would damage Armagh and provide no benefit to either the Department or the SSA. We argued that point very strongly with the Minister and other officials and I am glad to see that they have seen the light on this issue.
“I also want to pay credit to the staff in Armagh who refused to take this lying down and were steadfast in their determination to oppose what would have been a completely counterproductive move from the Department and one that would have had ramifications for the entire city.”
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