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Proposals to further downgrade Strabane Social Security Office services must be vigorously opposed - Doherty

3 December, 2008

Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP MLA Pat Doherty says that proposals in the Social Security Agency's Strategic Review Consultation in regards to Strabane's Social Security Office would have far reaching and detrimental consequences not only for staff at the Urney Road office but for benefit claimants throughout the entire District.

The local MP said that the proposals to further downgrade the local office must be vigorously opposed.

Pat Doherty said,

"In the past few years we have already witnessed the transfer of the Social Fund Grants Section to Omagh and the Pensions Section to Derry. Under these proposals, all remaining backroom processing functions would be transferred from the Strabane office with: Social Fund Crisis Loans going to Omagh; Jobseekers Allowance going to Enniskillen and Income Support going to Derry.

"If these proposals are not stopped in their tracks then between 50- 60 staff at the Urney Road office will be forced to transfer to these other SSO locations in the Western area that have been designated as centralized processing centres not to mention the likelihood that some of these jobs could be lost altogether in this so-called Strategic Business Review process.

"It appears that 'front office only services' that are being proposed for Strabane and 15 other location in the north are little more than a skeleton staff arrangement to facilitate 'signing on'. The proposals would also mean a clear move away from face-to-face contact to a telephone service akin to a call centre and given the complexities of the benefits system, especially in terms of forms filling, the difficulties that will arise for claimants are clear.

"The detrimental socio-economic consequences of these proposals for everyone in Strabane District are clear and must be vigorously opposed. I have submitted a range of written questions to DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie challenging these proposals on the grounds of their equality implications given that Strabane district already has the lowest base of public sector jobs in the six counties. I will also be challenging these proposals during the current consultation and I would encourage as many groups and individuals as possible in the District to do likewise by making a written submission before January 29th 2009." ENDS

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