Council takes their fight to save town’s benefits office Stormont

Deputy Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Cllr. Sharon McAleer, joined by representatives of the local community and voluntary sector, NIPSA and those affected to deliver Letter of Concern to Minister at Stormont.
Deputy Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Cllr. Sharon McAleer, joined by representatives of the local community and voluntary sector, NIPSA and those affected to deliver Letter of Concern to Minister at Stormont.
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Mid-Ulster District Council took the fight to save Cookstown Social Security Office to the doorstep of Stormont last week.

The Deputy Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Cllr. Sharon McAleer delivered a Letter of Concern on behalf of the Council and the local community to the Minister for Communities, Paul Givan, following the Department’s consultation on proposals to close the office and move face to face services to branches in Dungannon and Magherafelt.

The letter reiterated to the Minister the Council’s deep concerns that the proposed closure would have a detrimental effect on the most vulnerable in the predominantly rural Cookstown area, concerns which had previously been put to him at a meeting of Council members and officials on November 8.

Cllr McAleer said, “We are extremely concerned at the proposed closure of the Cookstown Social Security Office and put across our views to the Minister in the strongest possible terms in this Letter of Concern which I am personally delivering today.

“We have also identified several flaws in the consultation document that contained inaccurate figures which were both misleading and disingenuous.

“The Council’s position is that it was and still is open for detailed discussions with the department on these issues, and we continue to encourage those affected and in the sector to make their views known to the Minister.”

The proposals were debated in the Assembly in an adjournment debate brought by Linda Dillon, MLA and a past Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, on Tuesday, November 15.

The Minister, who was present for the debate stated, “All the issues will be taken very seriously, and I am committed to taking my own view on all this on the basis of information that will be provided to me.”

Cookstown is a hub town located in Mid Ulster as identified in the Regional Development Strategy, which is the largest growing region in Northern Ireland. The population grew by 18.7% between 2001 and 2013 against the regional average of 8.3%, and looking forward, Mid Ulster’s population is projected to increase to almost 156,000 by 2023, according to figures from the NI Statistics and Research Agency.

Demographically the area has the highest number of young people and a growing elderly population.

The Universal Credit that is imminent will see six working age benefits going into one. The Mid Ulster Area has the lowest average paid workers in Northern Ireland. Mid Ulster District Council is seeking the consideration of the Minister with regard to the timing of this proposal at a time when the jobs and benefits offices at a local level are most in need.