DAERA staff encouraged to teleconference to cut costs

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has encouraged staff at its new headquarters to teleconference in a bid to save time and cut costs, AgriLand can reveal.

This publication can also reveal £500,000 has been shaved off the cost of constructing the new Ballykelly headquarters, meaning the build has come in within its budget.

However, it comes at a time when the department faces huge potential budget cuts and staffing scalebacks.

Ballykelly House

Ballykelly House opened on April 30, 2018, and is now fully operational, with some external groundworks expected to be completed later this month.

The estimated full cost of the project as outlined in the business case was £33 million (€37.6 million).

A spokeswoman for the department said the project is currently within budget and is likely to remain that way until completion.

She also confirmed that the latest estimate on the construction cost is approximately £500,000 (€569,000) less than the original full construction estimate of £13.2 million (€15 million).

The projected amount was made up of £12 million (€13.7 million) for the building with a further £1 million (€1.1 million) allocated for related costs such as professional fees and site preparation.

Teleconferencing facilities

In line with targets outlined in the Full Business Case, 250 departmental staff are currently located at Ballykelly House, with a further 100 posts to be relocated by 2021.

However, not everyone will be posted at the site full-time.

At the department’s monthly board meeting in February, permanent secretary Denis McMahon confirmed his plans to be located in Ballykelly two days a week and at NIEA’s Belfast headquarters, Klondyke, one day a week.

Around 250 staff members have already moved into the building; however, rather than commuting to meetings they will be encouraged to use “available technology” instead in a bid to cut costs and save time.

It comes as the department faces large potential budget and staffing cuts and will see employees make use of video conferencing and phone calls instead of physically travelling from the site, which is almost an hour and a half from Belfast.

A spokeswoman said: “Ballykelly House has been equipped with modern communication technologies including a telephony network system and video conferencing facilities.

In order to ensure that the department works effectively and efficiently in terms of travel time, staff will be encouraged to use this technology for all but essential business travel.

“The department has in place an extensive remote working policy and Ballykelly House is part of the network of offices available for staff to use under that policy,” she said.

“At present, a total of 101 staff avail of remote working across 10 different sites.”