Civil servants to be able to work closer to home with new regional hubs

  • Photo: DAERA's new headquarters in Ballykelly. Part of the facility is to be turned into a new hub for civil servants to work remotely.

    Up to 10 new remote working hubs for civil service staff are to be set up around Northern Ireland, under the Department of Finance's 'Connect2' project.

    Existing public buildings are aimed to be used rather than building new properties, with the intention of helping civil servants work closer to home and encouraging them to spend more in local businesses and shops. 

    The hubs are expected to operate on a ‘hot desk' basis, meaning a worker will use the desk as required or on a rota system, rather than having one's own desk.

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    It's understood by The Irish News that the proposal had been in the works prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, but the pandemic has resulted in Finance Minister Conor Murphy accelerating ‘Connect2'.

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    The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' (DAERA) site at Ballykelly and Rathkeltair House in Downpatrick are intended to be the first two hubs and could be opened in the spring, but will only become operational when appropriate in line with health advice and protection regulations.

    Additional bases in Omagh, Craigavon, Ballymena and the Antrim or Newtownabbey area are being planned for next year, and the longer term roll-out could potentially look at locations in Enniskillen, Derry, Newry and the Bangor or Newtownards area being set up in 2023. 

    Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “These regional hubs will transform how civil servants work – enabling them to be based closer to home, reducing travel time and lowering carbon emissions while importantly promoting regional economic balance.

    “Covid-19 has seen an unprecedented shift in how the civil service works with many public services being delivered remotely. We now have an opportunity to build on these new ways of working.

    “We are working collaboratively with Councils to maximise the local regeneration impact and to establish the hubs as soon as possible."

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    Officials are targeting areas where the greater concentration of public workers reside, with estimations that one in three civil servants live outside the greater Belfast area.

    However, the accumulation of employees that are living in the Belfast region will mean Belfast city centre will have a notable civil service presence for the forseeeable future.

    But the successful adoption of the regional hubs could eventually result in some public buildings being sold off.

    Pressure is expected on the civil service to mirror the flexibilities that many major private sector firms are now indicating, in that they will adopt flexible working arrangements for office workers in the post-Covid era.

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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