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Public Employment

Volume 116: debated on Thursday 14 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consideration he has given to the relocation of public employment in areas of high unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Policy on Government office accommodation is under review at present. The review is considering the most appropriate siting of Government offices, taking account of the need to locate them where they can most effectively provide services to the public.

Does the Minister agree that if the Government are to be taken seriously about their intention to promote fair employment in Northern Ireland, the one area under their control where they can make a major contribution is the redistribution of public employment? With new technology it is no longer necessary to centralise such employment. Will he explain why, with such a simple matter as training centres, only limited skills are available in areas of highest unemployment, such as Strabane in my constituency?

Over 40 per cent. of non-industrial civil servants in Northern Ireland are located outside the Belfast area. Many other major public sector bodies are sited in various parts of Northern Ireland. The health and education hoards and other bodies are, by definition, scattered round Northern Ireland and provide employment in the public sector.

We are taking a careful look at the Civil Service deployment pattern. Any move will have to be measured against the service to the public and the efficiency of the public service as a whole. We must bear those two things in mind when we come to a conclusion.

On the question of training centres and training within the further education sector, so far as possible we shall seek to ensure that services are demand-led. Where there is a demand for services they should be provided, consistent with economy and efficiency. We shall examine both those aspects in the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the way to combat high unemployment in the Province is to reduce terrorism, because the only way to reduce high unemployment is through private sector investment? Does he agree that the private sector will not invest until the threat of terrorism has been eliminated?

I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. The pattern of unemployment in west Belfast, in parts of Derry and Strabane and elsewhere reflects the IRA's hypocrisy when it complains about unemployment among Catholics in those towns and cities, yet we know that it has contributed more than any other single factor to that unemployment in Northern Ireland.