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Thursday, 27 April 2017

MPs call for rethink on 'incoherent' Jobcentre closure proposals in Scotland

Written by Catriona Webster

The UK Government has been urged to rethink "incoherent" plans to close a swathe of Jobcentres in Scotland.

Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee said the proposals showed "a lack of planning" and called for a full review.

A report from the committee criticised the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced the proposed closure of eight of Glasgow's 16 Jobcentres, arguing it "gave the impression that Glasgow may have been singled out or used as a pilot, even if that was not the case".

MPs said they accepted the expiration of the 20-year PFI contract, under which Jobcentre Plus premises were leased, provided an opportunity to improve the network.

"What we have heard about the proposals for the closure of Jobcentres in Glasgow, however, represents a missed opportunity," the report said.

"There appears to have been a lack of strategic thinking about what Jobcentre provision could best serve the residents of Glasgow.

"The department's policies appear to have focused only on how many and where cuts in office numbers could be made and relied on existing Jobcentre locations regardless of whether, two decades on, they still deliver the right coverage.

"Given that this is the first opportunity for reform of the estate in 20 years, we are disappointed that this is the best the Government could produce."

The committee wants the DWP to carry out a full evaluation of Jobcentre provision in Glasgow that will take into account its geography and transport, and consider the possibility of a city-centre service.

MPs said they were "disappointed" at a lack of consultation with the Scottish Government over the plans and recommended any future policy decisions on welfare in Scotland be taken in consultation with Scottish ministers.

They have also called for a clear statement from the DWP to reassure staff about their jobs and for a full consultation on the proposed changes as a whole.

Committee chair Pete Wishart said: "Nothing in this policy backs up the UK Government's insistence that it is a result of carefully thought-out, long-term planning and not just an opportunistic cost-cutting exercise.

"The end of the PFI contract could have allowed them to embark on a programme of meaningful change, should they have wished.

"They could almost have started with a clean state and asked what sort of Jobcentre provision would work best for each city or town.

"Instead they seem to have just looked at how many offices they could close down and how much money they could save.

"Jobcentre Plus centres are there to serve their communities, when people are often at their most vulnerable, these proposals will fail to do this adequately.

"We urge the Government to look at this policy again and come back with a coherent solution that works for the people who use the service, as well as being value for money."

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We've been clear that this is about improving the services we deliver while making best use of taxpayers' money.

"We are in the process of consulting with staff and final decisions will be made after that is completed."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Danny Lawson / PA Wire.