Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has called for an urgent meeting with Communities Minister Paul Givan, after an internal document, seen by the Mail, shows Cookstown Social Security Office is among three across Northern Ireland which are to be closed.
Mr McGlone said the proposal contained within the document, sent to staff in Cookstown and Magherafelt on August 4, would “create further hardship” for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The SDLP MLA also said the closure of the Cookstown office would mean a further withdrawal of services from the town.
Staff working at the office in Cookstown, he added, would also be severely affected by any proposal to close the facility, particularly those with caring responsibilities or access issues.
“For all of those reasons, my colleagues in the other affected areas - Newcastle and Ballynahinch - are seeking a meeting with the Minister Paul Givan and will be seeking assurances from him about what exactly is being planned here.”
Asked to clarify a number of points about the document, a Department of Communities spokesperson issued this statement to the Mail: “Over the past number of years there has been a continuing decline in the number of claimants on the Jobseeker’s Allowance register and the total number of staff needed in some local Jobs & Benefits offices to provide the necessary services and support to claimants has reduced. The Department can confirm that there are no plans to close the Jobs & Benefit offices network and where there is a need to reduce staffing numbers; staff will be offered suitable posts in another part of the Department.
“The Department is currently reviewing its position on the small number of remaining Social Security Offices and Job Centres, including those in Cookstown, and its proposals on changing our office structure to meet future requirements will need to be discussed with the Minister, and will also be discussed with the Trade Union side. The Department would hope to be able to issue proposals for public consultation in the near future.”