THERE has been a positive outcome to the Social Security Agency review of staffing arrangements in Social Security Offices in Down District.
In October, public and Down District Council representatives met with staff from the Downpatrick SSO offices and after a discussion on the way forward, it was decided a Taskforce be set up to steer the way forward if necessary.
However, political pressure has forced a change in the policy direction of the Social Security Agency and as Christmas approaches, many members of staff locally with be delighted that their jobs are safe and they won’t be coerced to travel long distances to maintain their job contacts.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has welcomed confirmation from Social Security Agency Headquarters that staff in its Downpatrick office will largely stay in situ in their offices.
Ms Ritchie siaid: “I spoke with the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency, Mr Tommy O’Reilly and have received confirmation of this positive news for the staff in the Downpatrick office. I have been advised that the staff will largely remain to deal with more Social Fund cases. I am delighted that the Downpatrick staff have been provided with this assurance, especially in the approach to Christmas, as it will bring them further peace of mind.
“Job security or having the opportunity to access a job is the most important thing to any individual. For this group of staff in Downpatrick Social Security Agency it will not only be a source of relief for them, but it will also provide stability for the public sector in the Downpatrick area.
“I had numerous meetings with the staff involved, and I listened to their concerns about proposals to move their posts. I was able to raise these issues directly with the Minister for Social Development and the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency on numerous occasions to ensure that jobs were secured. I also pointed out that this area was a centre for public administration, and it was important not only for the staff, but to the public sector that these jobs were sustained.
“I would now like to see that the Minister for Social Development and Social Security Agency Headquarters to provide a new building in Downpatrick.
“With regards to the Ballynahinch Social Security Office, I understand that 17 members of staff will be transferred to Newry, and I naturally would have preferred these jobs to have been retained in the local area. But I understand that this is subject to the agreement of the staff.
“I will continue to monitor the situation with the Customer First review as it is vital for jobs to be secured, as well as keeping South Down as a centre of public administration excellence.”
Assemblyman Chris Hazzard MLA (Sinn Féin)said that he has been given a commitment by the Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland that staff in the Downpatrick Social Security Agency will remain in place.
Following an announcement in June that the Social Security Network would be changing dramatically, with jobs relocating to Newry and Lurgan, Mr Hazzard has made several representations to the Minister and DSD officials in an effort to keep these valuable jobs in the South Down area.
Mr Hazzard said: “The final phase of the Minister’s reform was to see huge changes in the employment structure of Social Security offices in South Down, resulting in a dangerous disruption to local services and unacceptable job losses. I made it clear to the Minister and his department that such a radical shake up was unwarranted and undesirable.
“The Minister has assured me that he has agreed to retain the status of the Social Security Office in Downpatrick, with all staff in this office expected to remain in place. This is great news for all involved, especially at this festive time of year. I have been talking to a few of the staff this morning and they are absolutely delighted – they are just so relieved.”
“I am also pleased that staff in the Newcastle office currently processing the Social Fund will now be able to relocate to the Downpatrick Social Security Office. This not only means that local people can stay and work in their local area, but it also enhances the status of the Social Security Office in Downpatrick and I am sure local traders are delighted to see jobs coming into Downpatrick for a change.
“This development is proof that if we fight for jobs and opportunities for our local towns and communities, we can be successful. It is up to all public representatives to go out and create employment and prosperity for the people of County Down.”