Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 07 May 2008



Case Studies on Public Sector Jobs Location

 7 May 2008 

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson) 
Mr Roy Beggs 
Dr Stephen Farry 
Mr Simon Hamilton 
Mr Adrian McQuillan 
Mr Declan O’Loan 
Ms Dawn Purvis 
Mr Peter Weir

Mr Michael Errity, Assistant Secretary ) 
Ms Irene Kirwan, Assistant Principal Officer ) Department of Finance, Republic of Ireland
Ms Áine Stapleton, Principal Officer )

The Chairperson (Mr McLaughlin):
Good morning. I welcome Mr Michael Errity, Irene Kirwan and Áine Stapleton from the Department of Finance in the Republic of Ireland. I hope that the Committee has not kept you waiting too long. We have received your written submission, so I invite you to make some opening remarks and then we will have questions.

Mr Michael Errity (Department of Finance, Republic of Ireland):
I would like to introduce Áine Stapleton and Irene Kirwan. We are from the public service management and development division of the Department of Finance in Dublin. Would you like me to go quickly through our opening statement?

The Chairperson:
We have your written submission, so there is no need to go through it line by line. We are happy to hear any comments or points that you might wish to make.

Mr Errity:
I will touch on some of the highlights to set the scene — the major benefit might be derived from questions and answers later.

In his Budget for 2004, the Irish Minister for Finance announced that 10,500 Civil Service and public service posts, including elements of An Garda Síochána and Army Headquarters, were to move to about 60 locations. This move builds on previous decentralisation programmes. Previous programmes that were successful in the 1980s and early 1990s meant that one Department at a time would move elements to a provincial location, while the rest of the Civil Service stood still, so to speak. The difference on this occasion is that a lot of organisations would be moving at the same time.

The key drivers that Minister McCreevy announced at the time were: that growth should be regionally balanced, delivering benefits for all provincial areas as well as for the Dublin hinterland; policy functions should be moved from Dublin to the regions, thereby bringing about a change in culture in policy formation by literally moving policy formulation closer to the people; and better career prospects for regionally-based staff. Hitherto, elements of the Civil Service had moved, however, there was a ceiling beyond which one’s career could not progress without moving back to Dublin. There was also the issue of a better quality of life with, for example, less commuting.

We set out in the paper the thoughts that informed the process of selecting locations and organisations for decentralisation, and tried to match them with the national spatial strategy, which is a 20-year planning framework. The aim of the framework is to strengthen the hubs, the smaller towns, the rural structure and complement the role to be played by them. High-quality jobs were to move to the regions to provide a further signal to other sectors in the economy about what Government was willing to do to support a move and take the pressure off Dublin.

That took us up to 3 December 2003, when the Minister made his announcement. It is easy to make announcements, but theory has to be translated into reality. In order to do that, the Government appointed a decentralisation implementation group to lead the implementation arrangements. That group has been working since January 2004, and has issued various reports, which are available on our website; and, if not, we will be happy to provide links to and details of the reports, the most recent of which was published in July 2007.

The implementation group took the process forward on three levels: people, property and business. Although I do not want to write off the property element, it is fair to say that that is the most technical aspect of the process. In the Irish Civil Service, the Office of Public Works manages the State’s property portfolio, so there is a well-honed way of dealing with the property element. Therefore, staffing was by far the most important issue, because there was a lot of concern among staff about moving. In dealing with the unions, we have a partnership process and a general council arrangement in the Civil Service.

The central applications facility, which we might talk about in more detail, is a computerised system to receive applications. The professional and technical posts in the Irish Civil Service are a bit more complicated, and we can touch on those areas, as well as the state agencies. There is then the matter of costs. I believe that those are the opening issues.

The Chairperson:
My impression was that there were more difficulties with implementing decentralisation, but you have provided a positive report.

Mr Hamilton:
Thank you for your submission and for your opening remarks. Your submission mentions the hoped-for inclusion of some departmental headquarters in the decentralisation programme. The location of Departments here is similar to how it was — and, in the main, still is — in the South. All our departmental headquarters, with one exception, are located near the Stormont Estate, and the departmental headquarters that is outside Belfast is only a few miles away from the city.

In the South, you have a policy of moving departmental headquarter functions away from Dublin. For example, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is to move to Kerry — Jackie Healy-Rae might take it in the boot of his car. From the evidence that the Committee has heard and the reports that we have examined, although moving a Department to the regions is regarded as a prize move, it is a difficult one because of the interaction required between senior civil servants in the Department with the rest of the Government and with the legislature. Has moving the headquarters functions proved to be more difficult than you expected it to be?

Your paper also mentions the mixture between civil service posts and public-sector posts in the programme. As there is a difficulty with relocating senior civil servants, which we all acknowledge, have you found it easier to move wider public-sector jobs than civil service jobs?

Mr Errity:
Eight departmental headquarters — and the Office of Public Works, which does a lot of business in Dublin — have moved. If we look at concentric rings, with Dublin at the centre, then Killarney would be a four-hour drive away and, along with Knock in County Mayo, would be the furthest place for relocation. Although the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism has an advance party on the outskirts of Killarney, its headquarters, the Minister and its support staff have not yet moved. To date, an element of the Department of Finance has moved to Tullamore, and the Irish Prison Service has moved to Longford in the midlands. Therefore, we still face a big challenge, and the decentralisation implementation group reports focused on that.

Facilities such as video conferencing can be used, but the Oireachtas and the Minister must be serviced on the days when they are in Dublin. In the Irish Civil Service, cross-cutting issues are handled by the Implementation Group of Secretaries General, which comprises the Secretary Generals from each Department who meet in plenary session to thrash out the issues that are relevant across the Civil Service. Due to the relocation, we have established a subgroup of that group, which comprises the heads of the eight Departments that are moving, and the head of the Office of Public Works. There are also representatives from the Department of the Taoiseach, because that Department provides the secretariat for the Government, and the Department of Finance because of its central role in budgetary matters. We are formulating plans to deal with the type of issues that you raised. For example, Ministers will have to be serviced on the days that the Dáil meets — Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays — and be supported in Dublin with press facilities.

Therefore, there are two conditions under which the relocation can take place. First, adequate facilities must be provided in Dublin close to the Dáil and the Seanad. The second condition is that there must be facilities to accommodate staff visiting Dublin on a transient basis. That challenge is being addressed and must be completed in the next few months because of the relocation of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to Killarney, which you mentioned.

In answer to your question about the state agencies, that is a — using the word, again — challenge.

There has always been a history and tradition of administration and managerial grades moving between Departments. Long before decentralisation, under our arrangements with their unions, 50% of all posts were filled by interdepartmental movement. However, professional and technical staff, who make up approximately one tenth of the Civil Service, have no such tradition of transfer. Most of them have spent most, or all, of their careers in a single Department. For example, an engineer in the Office of Public Works might not fit comfortably into another Department. Therefore, there are particular issues to consider, and we do not yet have a central agreement with the unions concerned.

The state bodies’ unions advised their members that they do not support the programme and regard a person’s employment as being with the individual agency rather than with the Government. To try to progress the programme, we are continuing to talk with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in an attempt to reach a central agreement that would allow transferability between the agencies. In the meantime, we are using a recruitment policy to try to increase the numbers.

Mr Weir:
To pick up on Mr Hamilton’s point, whatever the advantages of decentralisation, the inevitable degree of duplication of services and provision will have a negative impact. Mr Errity, you look slightly perplexed — I mean that even when a Department relocates to a place outside Dublin, some of its services must remain there. It is difficult to cater for that, and it may cause some problems.

I want to get my head round the scale of the programme and how Dublin-centric the public service was previously. In your submission, you mentioned that 10,500 public service jobs are to be decentralised. What impact has the initiative had? What are the facts and figures on the current size of the public sector in the Republic of Ireland and, prior to the programme, what percentage of the service was based in Dublin?

Mr Errity:
What does, or does not, constitute a public servant is always under debate. Leaving aside what I refer to as the commercial state bodies that provide services, such as Irish Rail, there are approximately 300,000 public servants in the Republic of Ireland. Of the 10,500 who were initially earmarked to move, about 6,500 were civil servants.

I will illustrate the situation by using the figures for civil servants. At the moment, there are about 37,000 civil servants. The Republic’s Civil Service includes the Prison Service, but not An Garda Síochána. Prior to the decentralisation programme, and taking into account the previous small programmes that I mentioned, approximately two thirds of the Civil Service was based in Dublin. When this programme has been completed, the net effect will be that one third of the Civil Service will be based in Dublin.

However, one must bear in mind that approximately one third of the population lives in the Dublin hinterland, and many services are provided to them by, for example, staff from the Department of Social and Family Affairs in Dublin. Its customer base is in Dublin, and it will remain there.

Mr Weir:
I am a bit confused about the figures. You said that there are roughly 37,000 civil servants, of which two thirds are, or were, based in Dublin — that equates to approximately 25,000 staff. Surely, therefore, a shift of 6,500 people would leave a 50:50 split, rather than a one-third: two-thirds split.

Mr Errity:
That is true. However, the Prison Service may have to be taken into account in that calculation, as its staff are already distributed throughout the country. We can provide you with a note to clarify that.

Mr Weir:
The human cost is, in many ways, arguably the most important issue. However, from a Government perspective, I am worried about efficiency and the overall cost of the programme.

Your submission mentions an estimate of €960 million for providing new and additional accommodation. Leaving aside the €75 million worth of property that was transferred to the affordable homes partnership and the anticipated funds from the income of properties disposed of — which amounts to a little over €500 million — the net cost of decentralising seems to be in the region of €450 million. Alternatively, if you take out the €75 million, the net cost will be €375 million. One assumes that property in Dublin is more expensive than property in the areas to which the Civil Service is moving. It, therefore, seems that the net cost of the move — €400 million — is a large sum. There will be a different scale involved in Northern Ireland, if we try to replicate what you have done, because the net cost associated with property in the South is so great.

Mr Errity:
As you say, figures can be confusing. However, the Government’s decision was never driven by property prices.

Mr Weir:
I understand that.

Mr Errity:
I will not say that it is incidental, because the sums involved are large, but it was not the primary driver. The Government of the time provided €900 million for accommodation for 10,500 staff, and that amount has increased to €960 million, with some increase in the numbers. We have received €387·5 million from the disposal of property, but very little of the Civil Service has moved.

The Office of Public Works is responsible for disposing of a property when a Department moves, but it is also rationalising its property portfolio in Dublin. It had vacant properties in Dublin that staff could use for various schemes, and they were used according to what lease breaks, for instance, were available. The Government have decided that no new properties will be required in Dublin, because new agencies will not be set up there unless there is a compelling reason. Any property that becomes available through a lease break — that would be available to move people around, but maybe not directly emptied through people moving out of Dublin — is being disposed of and rationalised. That is why such a large sum has become available.

One must also note that Dublin has had a buoyant property market. One cannot match the predictive possibility of €900 million worth of property in provincial locations against those types of property disposals in Dublin. They are a fairly good return, but there is no guarantee that with a reducing or tightening property market that that will continue to be the return per square foot.

Mr Weir:
If this is the return at the moment, what is the long-term projection for the financial business? Is the decentralising implementation group based in Dublin?

Mr Errity:
Yes. That group is best described as an incorporeal body; it does not have a permanent existence, and it does not have an accommodation. It meets from time to time, and the people you see here provide a transient secretariat to it as well as doing other work. In other words, there is no huge overhead cost associated with the group. It is an incorporeal body.

We used a model, which, for commercial reasons, is confidential. Our first and best guess when we commenced this project was to break even in 2026. Considering the buoyancy of the disposals in Dublin, we have shortened that to 2022. If the property market in Dublin were to continue to perform as it has in recent years; that date would probably be shortened again. However, if it does not continue to perform as it has done, the date may remain static. The Government were prepared for a payback date of 2026. So far, the outlook is more optimistic than anticipated.

Mr Weir:
The estimated cost for providing accommodation has shifted; it has risen from €900 million to €960 million.

Mr Errity:
Yes, because numbers have risen, as well as inflation.

Mr Weir:
I appreciate that. The experience of many people in Government, when it comes to capital projects, is there is a tendency for the initial estimate to increase for a range of reasons. How confident are you in standing over that figure of €960million?

Mr Errity:

I am fairly confident, because apart from anything we have spoken about today, what also must be taken into account is the fact that the property disposals are of buildings that are considerably dilapidated and need high maintenance, whereas those in the provincial locations that will be invested in are brand new, with the best equipment and facilities. That is a hidden trade-off.

Mr O’Loan:
The submission makes a reference to 60 locations, which strikes me as being a very large number. Did the plan, in any meaningful way, use the hubs identified in the national spatial strategy?

Mr Errity:
Yes. I do not pretend to be an expert on the national spatial strategy, however, I was told by the people in the Department of the Environment who were dealing with it, that the strategy was not all about hubs and gateways. The Government also saw county towns, and other medium-sized towns as playing a crucial role, and all of the locations in the Government’s programme had a part to play. I remember the Minister, in reply to many parliamentary questions at the time, saying that he was satisfied that the Government had taken the national spatial strategy into account when arriving at decisions.

One thing that has been pointed out about the national spatial strategy is that decentralisation must be considered in its totality and not just in relation to the locations identified in the current programme. The programme has been ongoing since the late 1970s or early 1980s. Taking into account the locations that have been successfully completed along west coast, from Letterkenny to Galway and then into the midlands through Sligo and Longford — for example, the moving of the Revenue to the mid-west, and the moves envisaged now — there is a good match between the locations and those in the national spatial strategy.

Mr O’Loan:
Did the programme have time targets, either set initially or at a later stage, and, if so, how is it progressing in relation to those targets?

Mr Errity:
Much has been said about a statement that the Minister did, or did not, make when announcing the programme. Some commentators say that he stated that it would be completed in three years. My memory of that night was that he actually said that a lot would be achieved in three years.

The Minister at the time — Minister McCreevy, who is now a commissioner — and subsequent Ministers have said two things. Obviously, when one begins a task such as this, one sets a target. However, there are a lot of outside players involved. One always assumes that people will co-operate; for example, one of the major issues concerned staff, and obviously the unions had concerns. There are two different attitudes that can be taken: one can sit down, take some time, consult, convince and try to move on by agreement, or one can say that there is a timetable that simply must be adhered to. The Department chose the consultation route, which obviously involves an inherent delay.

Also, as you said, there are 60 locations, which mean a minimum of 60 buildings. Again, as we all know, planning is a time-consuming process, regardless of jurisdiction, and the Office of Public Works, like any other body, has to get planning permission. That is a factor that is out of our hands.

Another important factor, and it has been a question that has been asked by previous and current chairs of the decentralisation implementation group, is that had we not set a target, even though it was very ambitious, where would we be today? By setting a target, one can determine whether it has been achieved or not. If no target date is set, things can start to drift very rapidly.

I could ask many questions, but I will ask only one more: what are the main lessons that you have learnt through the process?

Mr Errity:
I have already touched on one of the main lessons. There are three pillars in the programme: people, property and business, and I could not agree more with what was said in the first d ecentralisation implementation group report. The most important element, by far, is people. If one thinks that one could drive something like this through without consulting the people involved and addressing their concerns, one would be mistaken.

Also, one should set up an umbrella structure, à la the decentralisation implementation group, to take responsibility for the programme. Someone earlier referred to the complexity of the process: and one has to ask how such a process could be moved forward when there are groups dealing with different pieces of the programme and there is no overarching group. That is an important issue: a structure is required to take the process forward.

Mr Beggs:
The submission indicates that all transfers to new locations are taking place on a voluntary basis and that there will be no relocation expenses. I suspect that that is the reason why people are taking time to complete the moves. Will you provide more detail about how the process works? If the decision is taken that a Department should move out of Dublin: would that Department operate in two locations for a time, while some staff, who do not want to move, stay where they are? How do you deal with staff members who do not volunteer to move? What happens to them?

Mr Errity:
I return to my earlier point. General civil servants in the administrative and managerial grades may be transferred between Departments. That group is homogenous and is suitable for transfer, and agreements have been made with unions about that.

The Government are moving posts, not people, and civil servants can decide whether to move with their posts — in which case, they would have a priority claim on those posts — or not to move. Part of the agreement contained in the Minister for Finance’s Budget announcement was that any civil servant — or indeed, any public servant — not willing to relocate would be offered an alternative public-sector post in Dublin. That was an up-front promise.

As regards how a Government Department would be geared up for moving: first, those in the Department who are willing to go would be identified — they would be the people with the at-the-desk expertise. The shortfall would then be clear, and one could look at who else in the Civil Service would be volunteering to go. In my opening remarks, I touched on the creation of a central applications facility. Most, or all, Civil Service recruitment is carried out through the Public Appointments Service. That is the central recruitment agency, and it has a blue-chip reputation with the unions. It was agreed with the unions that it would be the organisation best-designed to run a central applications facility, through which people could go apply to go to their preferred location. That facility is used to try to bring the remaining volunteers in from the Civil Service. Remaining gaps would have to be filled through promotion and by discussion with the unions.

The people being relocated represent only one side of the coin: the question is how to deal with those who are not relocating? It was agreed with the unions that people moving from Departments would leave gaps in Dublin and, as I mentioned earlier, a significant number of civil servants will stay in Dublin. Therefore, we developed a separate system, which we refer to simply as “the Dublin arrangement”, to facilitate those who have opted not to go, to move around Dublin on a seniority basis. When a post in Dublin becomes available; civil servants can opt to take it; and it is then allocated on the basis of seniority.

People are being transferred out of Dublin, and others are being transferred in: it takes time. Most Departments have opted for the experience of setting up an advance party. I mentioned Killarney, where 60 or 70 people are now located. That gives them the business experience of learning where the pitfalls are, before the head office is finally moved there.

That is a Cooke’s tour of a much more complex process. I do not wish to understate the difficulties, and many issues that arise.

The Chairperson:
From what you have said, we can see the structure of the process.

Mr Beggs:
As regards the size of the move, you indicated that 60 different locations were involved.

We have heard evidence, and we received written evidence, to the effect that, if units are too small, it can be difficult to attract staff, especially those with families, because career progression is limited. What, if any, lessons have you learnt about the value of creating a critical mass in terms of the size of business units?

Mr Errity:
We have approached the matter differently. In identifying targets for decentralisation, the Government considered each organisation involved and a location’s ability to absorb them. Departmental and agency structures were not altered other than by saying that one element of an organisation might move out of Dublin while another remained.

In the case of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, clustering in the south-east was a possibility. That involved moving the Department to four different locations within an area. I suppose clustering provides a mix in that it ensures mobility for staff and for the Department, without people having to change where they live.

Dr Farry:
Was the central dynamic of relocation essentially sending Government out to regions beyond the greater Dublin conurbations, or was relocation sought within the wider Dublin area?

I appreciate that arguments can be made about areas with a critical mass of people and the problem of high-priced property in central Dublin compared to the city’s fringes. You also talked about avoiding long commutes to places such as Fingal, County Meath and County Kildare. Did relocating jobs to areas 30 to 40 miles out of Dublin make more sense than shifting them to regions such as County Kerry or County Mayo?

Mr Errity:
We have adopted a mixed approach and you have certainly identified one of the issues.

The most heavily subscribed — in fact over-subscribed — locations handled by the central applications facility consist of what I call reverse-commutes. Many Government workers commute the 30 miles into central Dublin from Drogheda and Newbridge. When posts were offered in both places, they were the most over-subscribed.

If you widen the circle to include Mullingar and Portlaoise, about 50 miles away, there is strong evidence of demand for decentralised posts. As you go further out, there are other issues about people travelling home. The transfer of the Revenue and the Department of Social and Family Affairs Department to the mid-west and Letterkenny respectively reflects another factor of decentralisation.

A lot of people moved to those locations in the 1980s and early 1990s because they were the closest places to home that people could find work. In other words, they might have preferred to go to Carrick-on-Shannon, but Letterkenny was as far as they could get.

Those people cannot be excluded from the current round of decentralisation. So about half the applications on the central applications facility are not from people in Dublin; they are from people who have made it half or three-quarters of the way home and would like to complete the journey. We want to facilitate them, but doing so requires more complicated arrangements.

For example, to release people from Letterkenny, while maintaining a business there, means that posts must be backfilled, which in turn frees up more opportunities for people who have not made it to Letterkenny yet. I am not suggesting that all decentralising is rosy. A complexity of movement is involved, which needs a lot of co-operation from management, who have to keep the show on the road, and from unions who have to address the concerns of their members. That is the type of consultation one has to do on a daily basis.

The Chairperson:
A national spatial strategy is mentioned in your paper. Our regional development strategy also includes the objective of promoting a balanced spread of economic development through a network of regional hubs.

How is that aspect of the national spatial strategy progressing in relation to your project? Can you cite particular cases as being exemplars in, for example, reinvigorating a sub-regional economy?

Mr Errity:
The Government have taken a mixed approach. They took into account the previous moves that had taken place — for example, the Revenue’s move to the mid-west has now been reinforced by the movement of 150 further Revenue staff to places such as Newcastle West, outside Limerick, where 500 staff had previously been moved, and the movement of another 50 to Listowel, which again reinforces that clustering arrangement. Previously, there were clusters of staff only in small, local offices, such as offices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs or the Revenue offices in the south-east.

It is important to draw a balance between the national spatial strategy and the need to provide a career structure for people, an issue that I mentioned in my opening remarks. If someone is working in a small office of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, there is a limit to the grade, scale or remuneration that they can achieve, unless they want to move to the Dublin hinterland. If, as is planned, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government moves to reinforce the numbers of staff in that area and provide a headquarters there, then people working in that Department can aspire to the highest grades in the Civil Service.

In other words, the Government approach involves reinforcing what already exists and adding new locations — mixing those two approaches creates a good match between the spatial strategy and the decentralisation programme.

The Chairperson:
We have a particular issue — in fact, we have many issues, regional disparity being one of them — with the quite significant number of people from here who are working in the civil service in Britain. Is there any evidence of dispersal attracting people back to your jurisdiction?

Mr Errity:
There has not been any to date. Tangible evidence of that would not be seen until more headquarters have relocated: something that will commence later in the year. I mentioned earlier that there will be a lot of backfilling at locations where we are moving people around — that will certainly open up recruitment possibilities at clerical officer and executive grades, subject to the agreements that we have with the unions. I mention that because, apart from the basic recruitment grades, we have agreements with the unions as to what proportion of posts are filled through promotion — which obviously provides some incentive to internal candidates — and then the balance remains for open recruitment.

The Chairperson:
You also explained that earlier. Would you look to England, for example, when recruiting?

Mr Errity:
The current arrangement is that the Public Appointments Service has allowed any post to be open to any EU citizen. I will have to double-check, but I believe that that has been extended to all citizens of the full European economic area, which includes some countries outside the core EU zone. Therefore, posts are open to application from anyone from those states, subject to their achieving the relevant standards.

The Chairperson:
Could those people access the electronic registration of interest from abroad?

Mr Errity:
Yes: however the central applications facility is for serving —

The Chairperson:
It is for internal use?

Mr Errity:
Yes it is, and then, if the Public Appointment Service has posts to backfill in particular locations — for example, if a lot of people at clerical officer grade move out of Limerick, it would run a special competition to fill those posts. So, from time to time, campaigns would be run on their website to fill such posts.

The Chairperson:
That is very interesting. I know that we dealt with this tangentially, but what is the experience of resistance to change in the institutions and among the staff moving out of Dublin?

Mr Errity:
To be honest, human nature being what it is, there is always a resistance to change — we all feel comfortable with what we have. There are various layers of resistance, fear or concern.

As I said, the general Civil Service had a lot of experience of decentralisation programmes, with at least half its posts, by its own agreement, being filled by people moving between organisations. Furthermore, at least one or two of the unions would have had a policy of supporting the decentralisation programme. That is one issue.

There are about 1,000 professional and technical grades included — about one-tenth of the programme. The official position of IMPACT, the union that represents those staff, is that its staff are specialists and that there has been no tradition of moving those staff. It believes that there is no reason to move, say, a drainage engineer from the Office of Public Works to another Department. Therefore, it felt that it was not appropriate to include professional and technical staff in the programme.

I must be honest; the union had those concerns, and we did not succeed in reaching a central agreement with it. I must add that only small numbers of professional and technical staff have been involved in the two moves. The prison service has already moved premises, and, later this year, what was known as Ireland Aid, the overseas development element of the Department of Foreign Affairs, will move. We have made bilateral agreements with the union that relate solely to those bodies. We must now try to address the concerns in organisations such as the Office of Public Works. Again, I do not want to underestimate the concerns. We hope that we can address them by consultation and discussion and provide alternative positions for the union members who do not want to relocate.

The Chairperson:
I presume that there have been periodic health checks to measure performance across those four key drivers that you set out in your paper.

Mr Errity:
The big test, as always, is to keep the Government updated. The Government are one of the key stakeholders, if I can use that word in this context. All the recommendations contained in any of the decentralisation implementation group reports were submitted to Government before being published, and all have been accepted. The aim is twofold; to suggest what the next stage of the process should be, and to provide a stocktake at a particular point of the progress to date and allow the decentralisation implementation group to report on the work that it is doing.

I mentioned that the Government are one of the stakeholders, and another important stakeholder is departmental management, with whom we met on a regular bilateral basis. The decentralisation programme would never succeed if we did not have an open-door policy that allowed people to express their concerns. Right from the outset, the implementation group has asked people to prepare implementation plans, to assess the risks and to consider how those risks could be mitigated. Again, we have to be realistic — and not to waste time, I have already mentioned our meetings with the unions. We have a formal plenary meeting with the unions once a month, and we are in touch with the unions almost daily to address particular concerns.

The Chairperson:
That is quite a lot of interaction.

That seems to be it. It has been most interesting. There may be issues on which we will wish to correspond.

Mr Errity:
We would be more than willing to assist you. In fact, we will see whether we can reconcile the figures that we mentioned earlier, and we will come back to you on that.

Mr Weir:
I am always very wary of Government statistics.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for appearing before us today.

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