Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Incompetent civil servants 'difficult to sack'

Edwin Poots
Mr Poots said civil servants had to be "particularly incompetent" to be sacked

It is "incredibly difficult" to sack civil servants even if they are grossly incompetent or no longer required, a Stormont minister has claimed.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots made the remarks when asked why no-one lost their job in the Planning Service after a highly critical performance report.

The service was condemned for consistent failure to meet its targets.

Mr Poots said Stormont ministers had to operate under a "ridiculous situation" in which they could not reduce staff.

He told BBC Radio Ulster: "Even when there is gross incompetence, it is very difficult to sack people in the Civil Service.

The minister said that even when he had too many civil servants working in his Department, instead of making them redundant, he was forced to redeploy them to other areas.

"I think it is ridiculous that if I have a surplus of staff that I cannot offload that staff, I have to get another department to take them on.

"In any other business, in any other walk of life, if a company finds that things change and they don't need members of staff then they have to go into redundancy - I can't do that," he said.

'Total change'

Mr Poots said he believed the situation had arisen through "various deals" negotiated by trade unions over the years.

When pressed about the arrangements for terminating the employment of incompetent staff, Mr Poots replied: "I think you have to be particularly incompetent to be sacked in the Civil Service."

The environment minister also confirmed that he had read the Public Accounts Committee's damning report on the performance of the Planning Service and said "it doesn't make good reading".

Mr Poots said he was trying to speed up the whole process and was working on legislation which would "totally change" the planning system.

"I am requesting that the bodies that we consult with respond to us quicker, with quicker turnaround times and the planners recognise that they are working for the public and that their role is to serve the public."

Brian Campfield of the trade union Nipsa, described Mr Poots' remarks as "outrageous" and said there would be a "strong sense of outrage" among civil servants as a result.

He said the minister's comments did a "great disservice to all the hard-working civil servants that are currently in the civil service".

"Civil servants have been sacked and there is quite a strict absenteeism regime were civil servants are being let go because of their attendance records," he added.

"Everybody is innocent until proven guilty.

"If a disciplinary investigation determines that a member of staff is incompetent, and clearly it depends on the degree of incompetence, then there are a range of measures including dismissal which are available to the employer.

"The processes are there and it is a matter for the employer to use those processes."

Mr Campfield said it was a "long-established procedure" in the civil service that if there was a surplus of staff in one department they could be redeployed in another.

"The question is why would the minister want to make someone redundant if there was suitable alternative employment within the civil service?

"It doesn't make sense."

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