Concerns have been raised over staffing issues at a Stormont department after it emerged that hundreds of employees have been temporarily promoted over the last five years.
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has 2,791 staff and, as of February 2020, 136 were temporarily promoted.
By February this year, this had increased to 159. Of this figure, 69 promotions were in place for less than six months, 25 for six to 12 months and 65 for 12 months and over.
Over the past five years, a total of 793 temporary promotions occurred within the department.
Alliance infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir said DfI has been struggling with staffing shortages “for years”.
“The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, is currently considering a report into the capacity and capability of the civil service,” he said.
“The issues identified by that report clearly apply to the Department for Infrastructure, especially the need for overall and Departmental Workforce Plans to ensure public services properly delivered by properly and permanently staffed departments.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs
“Temporary promotions and use of agency staff are rightly cited in recent Audit Office report as reflective of need for transformational change.
Ulster Unionist infrastructure spokesperson Roy Beggs said: “There has been a marked increase in the numbers of staff who have been temporarily acting up over the past year, which is concerning. An increased number of staff in temporary positions is not good practice as some may not have the necessary training and experience.
“It may be because of an increased number of staff being unable to work as a result of Covid and, if that is the case, I would hope that with the increased protections now available from vaccines and the end of shielding, that permanent staff will be increasingly back in position once more. I will be seeking an explanation for the increase from the Minister.”
A DfI spokesperson said: “Temporary promotions are routinely used across NI Civil Service departments as cover for vacant posts where there is a clear business need and no immediate alternative available and DfI, which employs around 3,000 staff, is no different in that regard. Temporary promotions are, as their name suggests, temporary arrangements which are only intended to be in place until a permanent appointment can be made.”
Across the civil service, millions of pounds have been spent on agency workers to cover staffing gaps. In November 2020, it emerged that spending on agency staff increased by 155% in three years.
An Audit Office report found that expenditure on agency staff is now running at more than £45m each year, while overtime costs have also risen by 17.4%, totalling £18.4m in the 12 months to April 2019.
The report concluded that the civil service must change how it plans, recruits, manages and develops its workforce to deliver value for money.
As of March 2019, around 22,300 people were employed by the nine ministerial departments and their executive agencies, making it the third largest workforce in Northern Ireland.
Between 2015 and 2019, however, substantial restructuring and rationalisation led to almost 4,000 staff leaving, with the majority through a voluntary exit scheme.
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