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Doherty calls upon DSD Minister to clarify DHSS Office proposals

21 April, 2009

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP MLA Pat Doherty says that DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie needs to clarify in detail her plans for the future of the Social Security Agency’s local office network following her announcement yesterday that she is taking forward, in amended form, some of the proposals of the SSA Strategic Business Review to centralise DHSS benefits services under the term “Customers First.”   Pat Doherty said,   “Sinn Fein vigorously opposed the original SSA Strategic Business Review proposals   arguing that they would result in: a centralization of the benefits system away from frontline services; a move away from face to face contact with clients at local DHSS offices; and the potential loss of up to 490 DHSS workers jobs at a time when demand for services is already overstretched because of the prevailing economic climate.   “In yesterday’s announcement, Margaret Ritchie said that she would be sticking with the principles of centralization contained in the SSA Strategic Business Review while at the same time stating in her “Customer First” proposals that there would be; no job loses; no reductions to front line services at any local offices; and no large scale movement of staff to new offices:    “It is difficult to see how the competing objectives of centralization and retention of current service provision at local DHSS offices can be obtained.  Margaret Ritchie alludes to the addition of two additional processing centres in Lurgan and Portadown, the clustering of local offices and the retraining of staff as the means of achieving these objectives but what is missing is the finer detail of these new proposals.    “For example, in questioning the original SSA Strategic Business Review proposals I was informed in answer to a written question that it was envisaged that staffing levels at Strabane Social Security Office would be reduced from 43 to 10 with back office functions being transferred to processing centres at other locations.    “Will these posts now be retained in Strabane through clustering and retraining and will local people have the same access to frontline service staff as currently exits in such an area of high multi-deprivation and need?   Margaret Ritchie needs to provide answers to these questions to assure staff and the public that her “Customer First” proposals are not just a repackaged version of the SSA Strategic Business Review proposals.      “Sinn Fein will be seeking clarification on these and other key issues in the days ahead.” ENDS

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