NICS temporary promotions on the rise as one official clocks 18 years in 'acting' role

Northern Ireland Assembly member raises concern that reliance on temporary promotions could be impacting the effectiveness of NICS

NICS head Jayne Brady. Photo: Associated Press/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

25 Sep 2023

More than 10% of officials in the Northern Ireland Civil Service are on temporary promotion, with one civil servant promoted to a role “temporarily” for 18 years and counting.

Northern Ireland Assembly member Colin McGrath said he is “extremely concerned” at the statistics, which he unearthed through a question to Stormont’s Department of Finance.

The statistics, revealed by the Belfast Telegraph, show the use of temporary promotions has continued to rise, having already nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019.

In March 2019, 1,844 civil servants – 8.2% of the entire NICS workforce at the time – were temporarily promoted following the three-fold rise in usage which came amid a staffing shortage.

Four years later, temporary promotions have become even more prevalent, with 2,467 of the 24,407-strong NICS workforce – 10.1% – on temporary promotion.

As of the end of July, the longest temporary promotion was 18 years and three months, according to the Department of Finance. The next longest is close to a decade.

Some 112 officials have been temporarily promoted for more than four years, 492 for two-to-four years, 559 for one-to-two years, 489 for six-to-12 months, and 818 for less than six months.

Temporary promotions are often used to cover absences such as maternity leave, sabbaticals and illness, or to fill a vacancy until a permanent appointment is made.

Of those currently in temporarily promotion in the NICS, almost half were appointed to fill vacant positions.

A further 729 were promoted due to a “temporary promotion chain”, whereby one temporary promotion leads to another as new vacancies are created by the upwards movement of civil servants. Some 350 were promoted for “special exercises”, which are projects with a set duration, while 58 were due to maternity leave, 14 because of leave, and 129 for sickness absence.

For 76 of the promotions, no reason was given.

McGrath, an MLA in the Northern Irish Assembly, said he was worried the over-reliance on temporary promotions could be hindering the effectiveness of the NICS, which is currently being headed by Jayne Brady without an executive to provide political leadership.

“I’m extremely concerned about the impact of the over-reliance of temporary promotions within the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the effect it has on the effectiveness of the organisation,” he said. 

“Having 10% of the civil service workforce currently on a temporary promotion is utterly unsustainable, and the fact that 76 members of staff have received a promotion with no reason recorded raises serious questions around this practice. This is not fair on the staff themselves and is no way to manage an organisation in the long-term.”

McGrath said the civil service is in “dire need of new and specialised talent”, but temporary promotions are preventing open recruitment for senior roles as their high usage means most job adverts are for entry level positions.

The Department of Finance told the Belfast Telegraph temporary promotions “are used to meet business need” but added that it is working to reduce their usage.

The department said recent budget pressures have “curtailed” recruitment activity, leading to increased utilisation of temporary promotions.

“Over 75% of the temporary promotions have been in place for two years or less,” the department said.

The DoF added that, in cases of temporary promotions that are considered likely to last for a substantial period of time – such as a new temporary post or maternity leave – a formalised selection process is usually put in place which ensures at least two people are involved in the selection panel.

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