The relocation of 85 Rivers Agency jobs to Cookstown is a massive boost to the area said Minister Hazzard at the £2m building’s official opening today (Thursday).
Delivered by Donaghmore construction firm QMAC, the building houses the agency’s corporate services and corporate support team.
And far from being concerned at the move to Cookstown, many staff were happy to relocate.
“These jobs would have originally been in Belfast,” said team leader Sean Donnelly, explaining how the jobs were offered in swaps.
“About half our staff here would be from the local area,” he added. “It cuts down on the carbon footprint, work-life balance - all those things.” He even said that although he drives twice the distance to work now, it is a more enjoyable commute without traffic lights and congestion - and takes only 15mins longer than when he worked in the city.
Rivers Agency chief, David Porter, also commended the decentralisation of jobs.
Speaking about the new building, he said: “It’s fabulous. We used to be in a temporary building put up in 1973. This is an absolutely first class modern facility here at Loughry.
“But the project wasn’t just about the building,” he added. “It was about moving the staff with as little disruption as we possibly could.”
And he said many were delighted to make the move closer to home.
After cutting the ribbon on the new structure, Minister Chris Hazzard said: “I inherited this in the new Department for Infrastructure but it’s been vitally important to take government jobs out right across the north, especially west of the Bann - this is a great boost to the local economy.”
Asked if there was scope for more jobs moving towards Cookstown, he added: “As government ministers it is incumbent upon us to bear in mind the positives of decentralisation.”
Now Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill initiated the policy of decentralisation as Minister for Agriculture that led to this build.
There to see her project come to fruition, she spoke of the centrality of Mid Ulster and her goal to bring more jobs to the area.
“I think it’s a really good hub for investment for both the private and the public sector,” she explained.
“It is brilliant to see it officially opened and I know the staff are all delighted to be here.
“Alongside that, Desertcreat has been another significant investment of £43m... that’s full steam ahead that project,” she continued.
“We have the design team in place, they are working up the detail and I am committed to making sure that that’s delivered also.”
Asked about plans to move benefits jobs away from the region, she added: “We can’t have one way traffic, we have to have jobs coming in.
“People were really angry about the security office campaign. I can understand that because we were losing that whole front face of a much needed public service for those people who are more vulnerable in society.”
Department for Communities has argued that significant investment would be needed to retain its services in Cookstown.