Jobcentre Closures

Part of Committees – in the House of Commons at 9:07 pm on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 9:07 pm, 5th February 2018

Funnily enough, no, I do not. On consistency—I am not sure whether there are any jobcentres closing in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I know that none is closing in the Minister’s constituency—where the closures are going to happen, we need evidence of whether they will truly deliver better value for money and a better service, both of which we would all be in favour of. We need to see the evidence that will lead us to that conclusion, including the quality impact assessments and the number of disabled people using each and every service. This service is not comparable with police stations, which are not there to serve the public in the same way. I am happy to have a debate any time on police stations in Scotland, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you would not want me to deviate too far from the jobcentre closure title that we see on the annunciator.

Let me draw my remarks to a close. The Government managed an incredible achievement when they announced the closure plans. They managed to unite—not just in Glasgow, but right across Scotland—the Scottish National party, the Scottish Labour party, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church in Scotland, all the trade unions and people of other parties and of no party against this very plan. We could see that it was ill-thought out, that decisions had been taken not because of the evidence that was before the Government but in spite of the evidence, and they went to great pains not to share much of that or include people in the decisions that were being made about them. I do not know how well versed the Minister is in Scottish politics, but to cause that level of unity is some feat.

When the Minister gets to his feet, I want him to tell us a bit more about the thinking behind this plan. I want to hear about the evidence and the equality impact assessments. I want to hear how the Government intend to review each closure over the next 12 months, as they start to happen right now, to make sure that people are well served and, as Douglas Ross points out, that value for money is served. There must be value for money not just for the taxpayer, but for the people using the service. In some cases, people are doing round trips of up to eight miles just to get to their local jobcentre. What about value for money for them and the impact that it has on them? When they go to claim their benefits, more and more of that money is used just to get to the jobcentre, when they used to be able to use a local service.

Will the Minister guarantee that when people are late for appointments, as a result of the closures, they will not be sanctioned? I am sure that he agrees that that would be completely wrong, though, like other Members, I have my doubts about that. I want to hear what the Minister intends to do to measure the impact particularly on disabled people as the closure programme gets into full swing. I want to hear about the options for reviewing the system should it be found that the evidence tells us that, in fact, the decision that has been taken has proven to be the wrong one. I understand that this comes on the back of the whole Telereal Trillium contract and the option to get out after 20 years and all the rest of it, but this has to be about more than spreadsheets and contracts. There are some desperately vulnerable people who rely on these services, some desperately vulnerable people who are let down by these decisions and some desperately vulnerable people who need to be better served by this Government.