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Gildernew consults committee on draft DARD Direct Report

4 November, 2008

Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has provided proposals to the Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) Committee for the rollout of DARD Direct.

DARD Direct is a new one-stop-shop approach designed to improve the delivery of DARD services to farmers and farm families. It brings together six Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) delivery service areas including Veterinary, Grants and Subsidies, Countryside Management, CAFRE Development Advisers, Rural Enterprise and Quality Assurance Services into single sites, strategically located throughout the North.

In the 'Draft Final Report for the Roll-out of DARD Direct Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA)', the Minister names the 12 towns in which it is proposed that DARD Direct offices are located.

The Minister said: "It is heartening that so many people took time to respond during the consultation period and I thank them for sharing their viewpoints with my Department. This has helped us give full consideration to the issues facing both customers and staff. It has also assisted us to develop proposals to eliminate or minimise potential adverse equality impacts and should allow the progression of the DARD Direct proposals in a customer and staff friendly manner.

"Indeed on the back of this, I am proposing to increase the number of offices from the original proposal of 10 to 12 to address the concerns raised by farm business and staff representatives. This will have a major effect in reducing disruption and I am convinced this proposal provides the best basis for easy access and a better service across the North and that it will be of great benefit to our farmers and other customers.

"I appreciate that relocation will present challenges to many existing staff and we will work closely with all involved to meet the needs of those staff and to keep inconvenience to a minimum, when a final decision is made."

The key issues arising from the consultation were: location and accessibility of offices, for both staff and customers; quality and flexibility of service; and disruption to staff and customers. The report is scheduled for consideration by the ARD Committee at the 2 December committee meeting.

The proposed locations are Omagh, Dungannon, Armagh, Newry, Downpatrick, Newtownards, Antrim, Ballymena, Coleraine, Claudy and Magherafelt. These are in addition to the DARD Direct Office already established in Enniskillen.

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