Staff in the Northern Ireland Civil Service have been offered a bonus of up to £1,500 as well as pay increases to encourage staff to work on no-deal Brexit planning, according to reports.
Staff have been asked to volunteer to join the ‘Command, Control and Coordination’ structure, called C3, that NICS plans to operate if the UK leaves the European Union on 29 March without an exit agreement, the Irish News reported today.
Under the plans, a central hub will be set up to coordinate Northern Ireland’s response to Brexit, with 24/7 staffing planned for up to six months, according to internal documents seen by the newspaper.
Around 800 staff have so far been trained in the contingency structures. NICS made a call for further volunteers to join the C3 programme last week, promising a bonus payment of up to £1,500.
The UK is set to leave the European Union at the end of March, and could leave without an agreement on the exit terms if MPs refuse to back the deal reached between prime minister Theresa May and the EU last year.
In a paper circulated to staff, the Northern Ireland Executive Office, the centre of the devolved government, said that although the C3 structure may not be required, it needed to “make preparations for every eventuality".
The "C3 completion payment" of up to £1,500 is intended to "ensure the retention of C3 volunteers for the full period of the C3 structures", the paper said. It added that the payment is an "exceptional measure for the particular circumstances of the C3 arrangements for Brexit/EU exit only" and that it would be taxed, non-pensionable and only paid when C3 ends.
Other pay benefits mentioned in the paper include a pay boost worth as much as 20% of staff’s basic salary as a “shift disturbance allowance" for working unsociable hours on the rota, rising to as much as 33% for night duty. The plan also sets out allowances including an on-call allowance and a standby allowance for staff remaining at work overnight having completed a day shift.
The document said it "may be that we are not required to activate C3 at all" but "it is also possible that we will need to operate 24/7 for an extended period of time" that "could be up to six months".
An Executive Office spokeswoman told the Irish Times: "The Northern Ireland Civil Service has been developing arrangements to ensure that we have the structures and capacity in place to address any difficulties which may emerge when the UK leaves the EU on March 29 2019.
"This involves comprehensive contingency arrangements to deal with any potential disruption. These arrangements may require the establishment of temporary structures that might need to operate outside normal working hours.
"Over recent weeks 800 staff have been trained in how, if required, the temporary structures would operate. The NICS is ready to operate contingency arrangements at very short notice, however, we are continuing to further enhance our resilience.
"For this reason, a second request for volunteers has issued to staff to provide additional capacity should the need arise."
Asked what incentives were added to last week's second volunteer drive, the spokeswoman added; "Other than the 'completion payment', staff will be paid in line with NICS pay and conditions."
Civil servants have been running the Stormont executive since the collapse of power-sharing arrangements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party in early 2017. Last week, NICS head David Sterling claimed this had led to a "slow decay and stagnation" in public services and said he feared the lack of elected ministers could become "the new normal".
The staffing warning came after Whitehall perm secs set out their staffing plans for a no-deal exit from the European Union – and their “buddy” arrangements with other ministries.
Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs permanent secretary Clare Moriarty and Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly told members of the Public Accounts Committee last week their departments had been matched with buddy departments to streamline the sharing of staff. Plans have also seen the creation of a government "clearing hub" for secondments across Whitehall.