ENOUGH is enough” was the firm message to British government after 100 people attended a public meeting organised by NIPSA to discuss plans to close the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) office in Coleraine last week.
Politicians from a number of political parties attended the meeting in the Lodge Hotel on Thursday evening.
In December 2011, the Department for Transport in Westminster proposed the closure of 39 regional Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) offices across the UK, in order to centralise the service at its headquarters in Swansea.
NIPSA union representatives told the meeting that Coleraine could not afford to lose over 300 jobs in the town and also questioned the efficiency of moving the service to Swansea in Wales.
One of the panellists, Assistant Secretary of NIPSA, Ryan McKinney, told the audience that highlighted various problems with the proposed centralisation of work from Coleraine to Swansea were “lost in a press release which tries to portray a picture which is all roses and perfume”.
He said figures showed a customer satisfaction rate of 98% here while centralisation of work in places like Scotland had experienced numerous complaints of delays in what should be simple services, as well as huge disruptions to the cash flow for car dealerships.
The centralisation which has occurred so far has done nothing to improve the service of the DVLA, so why would it be any different here, he asked.
He added: “The decision to close this is going to impact on ordinary people.
“There has already been clear evidence in Scotland that ordinary purchase of vehicles and changing tax discs is having a delay of up to six weeks. That is unacceptable. Here in Coleraine, they can do it in less than five days.”
Mr McKinney also dismissed claims that centralising services to Wales would save the public purse £12m a year.
He said the loss of 300 jobs would result in huge benefit claims and the more people that are out of work, the less money that is being pumped back into the local economy. Coleraine is certainly not in a position in which it can afford to take such a huge economic hit, he told the audience.
He quoted figures which showed that only 45% of people in the Province tax their car online.
“ With the removal of services from Coleraine, we will be left with very little choice, either facing the online services, the queues at the post office, or the dreaded automated phone call,” he said.
“Online may be the way forward, but not for many older people who prefer the face to face service and help they can currently receive.”
Brian Campfield, General Secretary of the union, called upon local politicians to fight to save the local jobs.
“Argument is simply not enough”, he said. “Here’s a chance for all politicians to take the initiative to save 300 jobs. We need to unite in order to trigger the right decision.”
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr, said the Secretary of State, Teresa Villiers, should also be lobbying to keep the jobs in Northern Ireland.
He stressed that the jobs issue had been put on the agenda for Parliament and had been made a top priority by a select committee on Wednesday.
Mr Paisley agreed - following a proposal by DUP MLA George Robinson - that a delegation be taken to meet Stephen Hammond, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport - after he has refused requests to visit Coleraine.
The Mayor of Coleraine, David Harding, was much in favour of this suggestion stating, “We have to go to Westminster. We need to put it in their face.”
NIPSA president, Patrick Mulholland, added: “The completion of consultation next week will certainly not be the end, it will only be the beginning.”
Numerous petitions have been placed in local shops throughout Coleraine. If you do not agree with the closure of the local DVA office, and the huge loss of jobs, you can do your part by signing one of these today.
In a statement issued after the meeting George Robinson MLA expressed his continuing support for the DVLA workers in Coleraine and indeed throughout Northern Ireland.
He said: “At [the] meeting organised by NIPSA it was a rare, but very welcome, sight to see a unanimity across the political spectrum in support of the DVLA office remaining in Coleraine and the local offices throughout Northern Ireland.
“Stephen Hammond, Under Secretary of State at the Department Transport, has refused on three occasions I am aware of to come and meet the staff in Coleraine who will be affected.
“I have suggested that if the Minister will not come to the Coleraine staff they should go to Mr Hammond. My party colleague, and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Junior, has offered to aid the staff carrying the fight to Westminster.
“I promised my continuing support for the staff and will do what I can ensure the battle is ultimately successful.”
As the Times revealed last week it’s been calculated that the local economy would lose around £22 million pre year if jobs go at the DVA in Coleraine.
The shocking figure was given to Coleraine councillors at a recent meeting of Coleraine Borough Council.
Speaking at the meeting, Maura Mann, Head of Development Services spoke about the impact the jobs losses would have on the town.
She also highlighted the ‘high peformance’ of staff in Coleraine.
The Head of Council’s Development Services explained that DVA staff in Coleraine had an ‘exemplary record’ of delivering high standards of service.
She said: “ In performance monitoring the Coleraine office has an exemplary record surely a move would result in the lowering of standards in the service provided.”
Ms Mann also pointed out that a shift of the service to Wales would take away choice from users.
“Members of the public would no longer be able to walk in and use the service,” she said.
She explained that it would result in a loss of around £22 million per year from the local economy, and would be a futher blow to recovery attempts for the Northern Ireland economy. “We must fight to save these jobs”, she said.