Ford still concerned by Ballykelly switch

editorial image

Alliance MLA David Ford has said that he remains very concerned by the potential damage to the services offered by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) when the department’s new headquarters opens at Ballykelly.

David Ford was commenting after he questioned DAERA officials at the Assembly committee.

He said: “It is clear that 90% of staff in Dundonald House do not want to move to Ballykelly, and that few of the civil servants who do want to move to Ballykelly have any real experience of the work to be done by DAERA headquarters staff.

“At the Assembly Committee, senior civil servants spoke of their concerns about business continuity - of ensuring that their services continue to be run effectively and efficiently in the future. Unfortunately, they were unable to assuage my concerns over the damaging effects of the political decision by ministers to move headquarters functions from Stormont to Ballykelly.

“We already knew that DAERA had lost considerable expertise when many specialists took early retirement recently. Now the department also faces losing a vast array of experience, as staff in some of the general grades are redeployed to other jobs in Belfast and a new group has to be brought in to do the existing work from the new base.

“Managing a team which is partly based in Dundonald House and partly based in Ballykelly is likely to add to management difficulties, and to cost.

“The new building is due to be open in 2018, but it is estimated that even in 2021 it will only be half-occupied by DAERA staff. At a time of financial pressures, spending over £30 million for so little benefit raises serious questions about the way the Executive is managing public money.

“It is likely that those who depend on the services from DAERA, on both the agricultural and environmental sides, will bear the costs of this decision.”