The Department for Work and Pensions is set to close dozens of offices, and workers were summoned to a briefing this morning as 1,300 face having no nearby alternative office to move jobs
DWP chiefs plan to close around 42 offices, with unions claiming “thousands” of jobs are at risk.
Thousands of staff were summoned to meetings at 10.30am today to be told of a major shake-up in the Department for Work and Pensions estate.
Of the 42 offices, it is understood 13 will be shut with “no other strategic site nearby” for their 1,300 workers to move to. They could lose their jobs or be shunted to another government department.
Roughly another 29 offices will shut with their 12,000 workers having to move to another site nearby.
DWP chiefs have been in talks to close some offices for years. But MPs hit out as many of the closures are in key parts of northern England, from Blackburn and Bradford to Washington and Stockton-on-Tees.
Shadow DWP minister Justin Madders said: “It looks as though the DWP doesn’t believe in levelling up, it doesn’t believe in its own rhetoric on jobs, and it doesn’t believe in keeping people in work.
“Many of the closures are in areas of economic deprivation that can hardly afford to lose good quality, public sector jobs.”
The offices are not Jobcentres and minister David Rutley insisted only “back of house” staff would be affected. Some of the sites do also have Jobcentres on the same site.
PA Archive/Press Association Images)
Separately to today’s announcement, 12,000 Universal Credit advisors who were hired to create Britain’s “biggest ever Jobs Army” have been told to reapply for their own jobs as their temporary contracts run out.
DWP Minister David Rutley claimed parts of the DWP estate were unfit for purpose. He insisted the “vast majority” of employees “can be relocated very very close to their current facility”.
He added: “We’re not reducing staff numbers – the focus is on retaining as many people as possible. We’ve got great staff, we want to retain them.”
But asked by Labour to rule out redundancies, he did not.
Mr Madders said: “The PCS union has said that its members are facing spiralling workloads, so is it not the case that the department actually needs more staff, not less?”
SNP work and employment spokesman Chris Stephens said: “Can the minister confirm that the announcement could mean 3,000 job at risk of redundancy?” He also claimed the DWP is “looking to close offices in high economic deprivation areas” which is “counter-intuitive to the so-called levelling-up agenda”.
Minister Mr Rutley also faced anger after being dragged to the Commons to reveal details of the closures as part of an Urgent Question by SNP MP Chris Stephens.
Ministers were only planning to contact MPs in affected constituencies at 1pm and make a written statement tomorrow.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents many DWP staff, said 1,188 jobs are threatened when 13 sites are closed.
It said 7,092 further members of staff at risk of redundancy when remaining premises are transferred to other premises by June 2023.
A further eight offices that were previously earmarked for closure will be kept for now.
Mr Rutley said plans will span the next three years, and over the next decade “the department is transitioning to an estate that is smaller, greener and better”. He added: “These plans to not affect our JobcentrePlus and customer-facing roles.”
Labour MP Grahame Morris said: “How will closing a DWP office in my constituency that employs 390 people help Easington to level up when the government is moving employment to the largest cities?”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said after Covid broke out: “Our exceptional civil servants however have stepped up to and met the challenges of this unprecedented time head on.
“I know we can all rely on them to deliver as we rebuild and renew Britain.”
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government was quick to clap civil servants at the start of the pandemic; they’re even quicker to scrap them now they’ve declared the pandemic over.”
Minister Mr Rutley accused the PCS of releasing the information ahead of schedule.
He looked at his watch as he told MPs – just after 10.30am – “I’m not able to go into all the detail this morning as we’re currently briefing affected colleagues as we speak.
“Delivery of the first stage of this strategy is being announced to affected colleagues at 10.30am today – right now.”
But SNP MP Peter Grant accused ministers of trying to “sneak this out in a written statement” on a Friday, once most MPs had gone back to their constituencies.
A Tory MP also tried to raise doubts over the motivation of SNP MP Chris Stephens, who dragged ministers to the Commons to give details.
Ex-minister Andrew Murrison sought “guidance on whether it is orderly for a member who has taken very substantial donations from a trade union to then ask an urgent question on a matter of direct interest to that trade union.”
Mr Stephens, who is chair of the PCS parliamentary group and has registered two donations totalling more than £60,000 for the “administration and co-ordination” of the group, declared his interest in the chamber.
Sites closing with no alternative
- Aberdeen, Ebury House
- Barrow in Furness, Phoenix House
- Bishop Auckland, Vinovium House
- Blackburn, Cardwell Place
- Bury St Edmunds, St Andrews house
- Chippenham, St Pauls House
- Exeter, Clarendon House
- Gravesend, The Grove
- Kirkcaldy, Victoria Road
- Milton Keynes, Southgate House
- Peterborough, Bridge Street
- Southampton, St Cross House
- Stoke-on-Trent, Hanley, Stafford Street
Sites closing, alternative offered
- Bathgate, Whitburn Road
- Birkenhead, Hordan House
- Bootle Redgrave Court
- Bradford, Leeds Road
- Burnley, Brun House
- Doncaster, Crossgate House
- Dundee, Lindsay House
- Falkirk, Callendar Gate
- Glasgow, Clydebank, Radnor House
- Glasgow, Springburn
- Gloucester, Cedar House
- Liverpool, Belle Vale, Childwall Valley Road
- London Hackney, Sylvester Road
- London Stratford, Jubilee House
- Manchester Chorlton, Graeme House
- Nuneaton, Discovery House
- Oldham, Phoenix House
- Preston, the Guild Centre
- Rotherham, Dearne Valley, Discovery House
- Seaham, Lighthouse View
- Southend-on-Sea, Kingswood House
- St Helens, Gregson House
- Stirling, St Ninians Road
- Stockton-on-Tees, Tees Buildings
- Walsall, government buildings
- Warrington, Hilden House
- Washington, Durham House
- Wellingborough, Lothersdale House