MLA welcomes new jobs hub

MLA welcomes new jobs hub

31 March 2021

PLANS for a new jobs hub for civil servants in Downpatrick will provide the local economy with a timely boost, according to South Down MLA Colin McGrath.

The Northern Ireland Civil Service is in talks with trade unions about future remote working for up to 23,000 workers, with Rathkeltair House in Downpatrick one of several new regional jobs which have been identified.

The Department of Finance, which is responsible for personnel matters in the Civil Service, said the remote working habit established in the pandemic was here to stay.

Regional job hubs are designed to allow public sector staff who live locally to have the opportunity of working via so-called hot desks instead of travelling to Belfast or other major towns far from home.

There are plans for a number of regional hubs across the province over the next few years with suggestions that up to 50 staff will be able to opt to work at Rathkeltair House where there is available space to accommodate them.

The new dedicated facilities will transform how civil servants work, enabling them to be based closer to home, reducing travel time and lowering carbon emissions while promoting what he described as the regional economic balance.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in many civil servants working from home which resulted 

in an unprecedented shift in how the civil service works with many public services being delivered remotely.

Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy has described the regional hubs as an “exciting development” in how the civil service estate operates and presents a huge opportunity to make a positive impact on local economies, the environment as well as the health and wellbeing of staff.

Downpatrick is in line for a so-called Connect2 hub, with another planned for Ballykelly, but will

only become operational when they meet current public health advice and health protection regulations.

Mr McGrath — who chairs the Assembly’s Executive Committee — said Covid-19 has highlighted the need to review current working practices.

He said people who previously thought it would be unthinkable to work from home have now found a pattern and are very much capable of delivering their work.

Mr McGrath said there were “many, many people taking thousands of car journeys from Downpatrick, a regional hub, to Belfast for work”.

The MLA continued: “The fact that some can access a local workspace is very positive for time management and the environment. These workers are not using buses or cars and it is good financially that they don’t have to pay for car parking or fuel. And for Downpatrick, there will be dozens more people on the streets in the town, bring lots of benefits.”

Mr McGrath also acknowledged that the move towards regional hubs could result in empty office space in and around Belfast where a huge number of civl servants were traditionally based.

“That’s the challenge — to repurpose those buildings — but we certainly cannot have vacant government buildings in the city centre being held on to for five, 10 or 15 years,” he continued.

The local MLA also believes that moving civil servants away from Belfast could provide an economic spin-offs for towns like Downpatrick.

He added: “I’m a fan of decentralisation in the public sector. It guarantees footfall in regional towns and that brings fairness to the rate and taxpayer. They get the benefits of having a workforce near them, especially the hospitality and retail businesses.

“If you have 100 or 200 civil servants there they will spend a certain amount of money every week in those businesses while the city centre has a different product it can sell to attract those people at weekends.”

Developing Rathkeltair House as a regional jobs hub has been welcomed by a number of local politicians who say that the opportunity to combine working from home with the traditional office experience, enables civil servants to have a much more attractive work life balance as part of the Covid-19 recovery.

Downpatrick councillor Dermot Curran said he was delighted that Rathkeltair House was one of several new regional civil servant job hubs which will allow public sector staff to work closer from home.

“There are many people who travel from the Downpatrick area each day to Belfast and by reducing this number to allow them to work locally can produce a benefit for local businesses which is timely given the current climate,” he said.

“The Downshire Civic Centre is already a public sector hub and perhaps additional civil service jobs could be redeployed there in the future, providing Downpatrick with an additional boost.”