The amount of ‘rural proofing’ work that has been done on the proposed closure of Cookstown’s dole offices has been branded ‘ridiculous’.
Hitting out at the “five phone calls” that have taken place between the Department for Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department for Communities (DfC), Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has called on the ministers to do more.
He told the Mail: “It is ridiculous that something that affects so many people in the rural area - and especially people who have poor access to public transport and are on a very low income - that the best the department and the executive can do is to make five phone calls.
“Talking about a policy of decentralisation - their practice is to bring everything back to Belfast.”
In questions to the Assembly, Mr McGlone asked Communities Minister Paul Givan how many meetings had taken place between his department and DAERA on the proposed closure of Cookstown’s Social Security office and JobCentre, and what documents were available that could provide details of these meetings.
The reply said: “Department for Communities officials have had five telephone conversations with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs officials for advice on the rural proofing of the proposals.
“The outcome of these discussions has informed the development of a draft Rural Impact Assessment Screening document.
“A meeting has been arranged for 26 October 2016 with officials of the Rural Policy Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to discuss the draft document. The document once finalised will be made available.”
In response the department said: “The Department for Communities is fully aware of its responsibility to rural proof policies to determine their impacts and is scheduled to meet with officials in the Rural Policy Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to discuss the draft Rural Impact Assessment Screening of the proposed closure of offices.
“Discussions are continuing between officials on how best to carry out the initial rural proofing screening and a meeting later this week is intended to review the draft rural proofing document which will be published in the next seven days.
“The need for a Rural Impact Assessment under review during the public consultation exercise, based on the submissions which the department receives from interested parties.”