23 May 2002 Edition

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Strabane ignored in public sector jobs shareout

West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty says all available evidence points to the fact that Strabane District has been completely overlooked in the consultation to relocate 150 public sector jobs west of the Bann.

The Management Board of the Social Security Agency recommended that, in line with the Executive's commitment to decentralise public sector jobs, the reorganisation of the Agency's Pensions Branch should see a move to a two-centre service, with one based in Belfast and one west of the Bann.

"I wrote to the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency on 17 April outlining the case for Strabane," said Doherty, "including the fact that the District has 43% less public sector jobs than the Six-County average and given that the district tops the multiple deprivation leagues in the North, according to both the Noble and Robson reports. Given these facts, one would have thought that the case for Strabane was substantial, if not overwhelming.

Doherty said he only received a response from the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency on Friday 17 May to the effect that an appraisal is being conducted "but it has now transpired that plans to locate the 150 pension jobs in either Omagh or Enniskillen are at an extremely advanced stage and as of yet preliminary contact has not even been made with the Chief Executive of Strabane District Council.

"The information that has now come to light has caused considerable disquiet and alarm among local elected representatives, local Trade Union officials and local Chamber of Commerce members, who only last week formed a lobby group to bring Strabane's case to Minister Seán Farren, completely unaware that the decision to locate elsewhere is apparently at an extremely advanced stage," said Doherty

"An emergency meeting of this lobby group was held on Friday. It was unanimously agreed that we should seek urgent meetings with both the Department of Finance and Personnel Minister Seán Farren and Department of Social Development Minister, Nigel Dodds, with whom the ultimate decisions on these jobs lie. We will voice our concerns and seek answers about how this consultation process has been conducted and to put the case for Strabane, even at this late stage."

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