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More than 4,000 posts still vacant across Northern Ireland's civil service

Some 4,258 vacancies were reported by Stormont’s nine government departments at the end of July.

MORE than 4,000 posts were vacant across the Northern Ireland Civil Service at the end of July, official figures show.

While total number of civil servants in the north has been on the increase since October 2020, rising to 23,534 in July, the headcount remains 1.3 per cent below where it stood five years ago.

By contrast, Scotland's civil service is 31.7 per cent bigger than it was in 2016.

According to new figures from the Department of Finance, 4,258 posts were reported as vacant by Stormont's nine government departments at the end of July.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced a highly publicised drive to recruit 500 public staff in May this year.

But figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show an additional 507 vacancies have been reported across the civil service in the two months after that announcement.

It's understood a significant number of those additional vacancies were recorded by the Department for the Communities (DfC), within its benefits delivery and child maintenance services division.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance said 1,687 applicants were currently in the final stages of the recruitment process, or had already agreed a start date.

The department said “planning is underway to fill a further 2,571 posts”.

One of Stormont's top civil servants spoke out in February about the health impact of the high vacancy rates.

The Department for the Economy's permanent secretary Mike Brennan told a Stormont committee that one of his senior officials had ended up in hospital due to the added pressure.

Stormont's strategy to address high vacancy rates in the public sector has to date involved turning to private recruitment agencies.

Some 2,537 agency workers were in place across the civil service at the end of July, or had been requested by Stormont departments through managed recruitment agency contracts.

Those recruitment agency contracts are among the most potentially lucrative issued by Stormont.

The Premiere Employment Group won a contract worth up to £357 million in January 2021 for providing temporary agency workers for the civil service and other government agencies and non-departmental bodies.

Similar smaller contracts were also awarded in January to CPL (£17.3m) and Grafton (£9.2m).

Of the 4,258 vacancies at the end of July, some 1,559 were recorded by the Department for the Communities (DfC), which at 8,500, has the largest workforce of Stormont's nine departments.

That number swelled by 479 in the two months to July 31.

DfC said it also had 1,722 agency workers employed at the end of July.

The department said the majority of its vacancies are within the benefits delivery and child maintenance services.

“This is due to a number of reasons including increased demand for our services and staff attrition,” said a DfC spokesperson.

“Recruitment exercises to fill existing vacancies within the Department are ongoing.”

The headcount within the north's civil service had stood as high as 31,720 in 2005.

While significant restructuring has taken place within the public sector over the past two decades, such as the creation of NI Water, Invest NI and devolution of planning to councils, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency's analysis suggests the changes account for a net loss of just 1,600 civil servants.

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