Mid Ulster Council has called for a halt to the planned closure of Cookstown Social Security Office in a fresh bid to prevent job losses.
The Department of Communities is pushing through with proposals to close the town’s benefit office in spite of fears that vulnerable clients will find it impossible to access services elsewhere.
At last night’s (Thursday) monthly meeting of the council, the chamber voted unanimously for a suspension of the consultation process.
Councillors rejected the proposals and have demanded a meeting with the Communities Minister Paul Givan. Cookstown UUP councillor Trevor Wilson described the prospect of the closure of the office as “dreadful”. He said: “Mid Ulster has suffered greatly from the recent recession and the prospect of losing another 34 jobs, in addition to a vital community facility such as the local Social Security Office, does not bear thinking about.”
He raised concerns over how the closure would affect the district’s rural population, which is rising at the fastest rate in Northern Ireland.
“Has the department thought of how this will affect disabled people and rural dwellers when there is not the public transport provision to take them to offices in other towns?
“The closure will have adverse consequences for the most needy in our society and will also increase the burden on voluntary organisations such as CAB.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Peter Bateson also called for an investigation into how the closure would negatively affect rural residents in the district.
“We cannot stand by and see jobs and services leave the area”, he said.
His remarks were supported by party colleague Ronan McGinley who called on the government to protect front-line services in the area.