DWP Office Closures

– in the House of Commons at 12:47 pm on 23 June 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gareth Johnson.)

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 12:49, 23 June 2022

I want to raise the issue of Department for Work and Pensions office closures. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in particular my role as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I believe you have made representations on behalf of your constituents who are employed in the Department for Work and Pensions. This issue affects DWP staff across these islands. The PCS is the largest trade union in the civil service, representing 180,000 members, with workers throughout the civil service and Government agencies, including 50,000 members employed by the DWP. They are concerned, as hon. Members across the House are, about the DWP’s announcement of 17 March 2022 that more than 40 of its processing sites are to close, which we believe has the potential of putting more than 3,000 jobs at risk of redundancy.

There are three categories of processing site closures. The first is where the site is closing and the work will not be consolidated anywhere in the vicinity. I understand there are 13 sites in that category. The second category is where the site is closing but work will be consolidated into an office that the DWP has deemed is within the vicinity, which I understand is 28 sites. The third category is sites that were originally announced as transitional, which will be retained in the short to medium term but will remain badged as transitional. That is eight sites.

Despite the initial assurances given by Department Ministers at an urgent question I secured, the real concern is that we were told that the closures would not impact frontline services, but a further announcement, on 30 March, was for the closure of five jobcentres. That is very concerning and seems to be the latest push by the DWP to implement its network design strategy, which will put jobs and services at serious risk, and there is concern that the latest announcements could signal further jobcentre closures.

The PCS parliamentary group is clear that, following the previous closures under the people and locations programme, these closures will have a devastating impact on the services that staff provide and the local communities where the offices are based. They are a serious threat to DWP staff jobs.

On 17 March, when the original announcement was made, there were 1,118 staff in processing sites that will close without the work being consolidated within the vicinity and 7,341 staff in sites where the work is being consolidated into other offices. The speed at which the Department is operating and has moved to issue “at risk of redundancy” letters to staff across 25 of the 43 sites vindicates the concerns that many of us have that jobs will be lost as a result of the closures.

While some of the sites in the second category are seeing work moving into buildings that are very close by—the Falkirk and Preston sites, for example—other offices that the DWP has classed as being in the vicinity, and so plans to move staff to, are actually some considerable distance away. That includes the proposal to move the Doncaster office to Sheffield, which you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, is 22 miles away. In many of the offices, one-to-one meetings have taken place with members of staff and it is clear that many will not be able to move; it is therefore certain that many DWP staff will be faced with the very real prospect of redundancy.

There are two processing sites in Wales due for closure from a previous round of closures, where staff have also been confirmed as at risk of redundancy as part of the 16 June announcement. That is because there are more than 120 staff based across the two sites who are unable to make the long journey to the proposed new office. The offices are closing in two tranches. On 16 June, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that, of the 29 sites in the first tranche, at 25 sites a total of 903 staff were at risk of redundancy. We believe that at the remaining 14 sites, which are due to be closed on a slightly slower timeline, similar numbers of staff are likely to be at risk of redundancy.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Adjournment debates do not usually come this early in the day, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you and I know, but none the less we are very pleased, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on coming forward with it. He is assiduous when it comes to these issues, and I thank him for that. I think the whole House should thank him for it, by the way.

Coming from a rural constituency, with intermittent public transport as well as an intermittent internet and mobile service, I know that centralisation or closure of services is never a good suggestion for people in isolated areas. I know the hon. Gentleman is referring to towns, but does he agree and will he call on the Minister to consider, where this is possible, the suggestion of having satellite offices in rural areas such as where I live as well as in the centralised urban areas he has mentioned?

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because I have family members in his constituency, as he knows, so I am well aware of his constituency. He raises a very important point about satellite offices, but there is also homeworking. We were told that homeworking was a suggestion, but it seems now that the Government want to force people away from working at home into offices—only the Government are now closing these offices, so there do seem to be some mixed messages from the Government. I do thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes a very important point, and I hope the Minister will respond to it.

On 16 June, a voluntary redundancy scheme was offered to those staff at the 25 sites identified as being at risk of redundancy. Most of these closures are based on plans originally drawn up in 2016 and announced in 2017, and they are seriously out of date. The sites chosen for closure have, according to the Department, been selected after not just looking at the condition and suitability of buildings, but considering the potential impact of taking work out of locations that score more highly for economic deprivation.

However, many of these closures do not seem to make a lot of sense if their impact on the local economy has been taken into account. Many of these closures are in areas of economic deprivation that can hardly afford to lose good-quality public sector jobs. For example, 29 of the 41 processing sites are in constituencies that have higher than the national average claimant rates, and 18 of the 33 England office closures are in constituencies rated in the top 100 most deprived constituencies in the country. I do not call that levelling up.

My hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin has done a survey of businesses near the Springburn site, which is earmarked for closure. It makes interesting reading, and I will take a moment to mention what has been identified in that community impact assessment. There are many businesses that staff at the Springburn site use. The off-sales, where people may perhaps buy a bottle of wine before they go home for the evening, and the Chinese restaurant next door, have concerns about the closure of that office.

The local florist is very concerned because the staff use that service, the local pharmacy has concerns about the closure and the local butcher has made representations about the closure of the Springburn office. That is the very real impact, just in Springburn alone, that such office closures will have on the local economy. It seems—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—that the overriding reason for many of these closures is that the Department for Work and Pensions has itself let the buildings in which it is located fall into major disrepair.

Let me now turn to concerns about the lack of opportunities to redeploy staff. When offices have been closing, Ministers have sought to reassure Members that staff will be redeployed elsewhere in the DWP or in other Departments whenever possible. However, the potential for redeployment elsewhere in the civil service has become less likely following the Government’s announcement on 13 May, through the press and without consultation with staff or trade unions, of their plan to cut 91,000 civil service jobs. The DWP’s decision not to make permanent thousands of staff on fixed-term appointments will, I believe, have come as a blow to staff as well as service delivery.

Under the recent permanency exercise for 12,000 work coaches who joined the Department on fixed-term contracts, only 9,300 have been offered permanent posts. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether those who are not among the 9,300 will be offered permanent employment in the DWP. Not all the posts have been offered to staff in their preferred workplaces, so they face making significant journeys if they want to continue their employment with the DWP.

The current position is that 1,400 full-time equivalent staff are on a waiting list but are being told that their contracts will end on 30 June 2022. Other FTEs have not been put on the waiting list and have been selected out of the process, despite having joined the DWP on the basis of fair and open competition. If this position does not change, it will lead to significant shortfalls in staff in jobcentres and DWP offices, which face staff reductions of up to 5,000. That will lead to increased workloads, place greater pressure on existing staff, and have a detrimental impact on the services that the public receive from the DWP. We believe that it makes no sense to threaten experienced staff with redundancies when the Department needs more staff, not fewer, to deal with higher workloads. If these closures and job cuts are allowed to go ahead, we will face the absurd prospect of staff being made redundant in one area while new staff are recruited in another to do the same job. That would be both costly and inefficient.

There is also the issue of the buildings. I understand that the Department aims to rationalise its estate, taking into account matters such as hybrid working, making offices fit for the future, and considering the green agenda as it reviews existing offices. I am told that all offices will be looked at, including jobcentres, and that the Department wants to ensure that everyone is working in an office that is of good quality.

The employers seem to believe that much of the DWP’s existing estate is no longer fit for purpose. They will seek to leave sites that are no longer suitable and relocate in new premises in the vicinity where they want to maintain a presence, overhauling some sites and closing others where they believe the DWP no longer needs to be located. They also seem to believe that having fewer, bigger buildings is a more efficient way of running the Department, although, as we heard earlier from Jim Shannon, that will not necessarily always be the case.

However, many of the processing sites are based in buildings from which the DWP will still operate. For example, jobcentres remain in the same location in Doncaster, a site that could easily accommodate the 300-plus staff that the DWP considers to be the minimum number to make a building viable. It will not be possible to sub-let parts of the buildings that it will be vacating, so we question the sense in making experienced staff redundant only for the part of the empty office space that they have vacated to—potentially—become unused. One such example is the Gloucester jobcentre at Cedar House, where only one part of one floor is being vacated and more than 40 staff who are unable to move to Worcester have now been identified as being at risk of redundancy.

The Department and Ministers have claimed that the estate programme is in support of the Government’s commitments on sustainability and net zero carbon. However, these plans are likely to lead to staff having to travel further to work as a result, which in turn would lead to more carbon emissions. No doubt the hon. Member for Strangford would agree with that, given his earlier intervention. It is also worth considering that the DWP is not totally vacating many of the buildings in question but has not said whether it plans to invest in making these buildings more energy-efficient in future. There is little evidence that the DWP is doing anything to improve the rest of its estate. Much of the remaining estate is similarly unsuitable and unsustainable. We also have concerns that not all the buildings the DWP proposes to move staff to will be able to accommodate the numbers.

That brings me to the issue of equality impact assessments. The restrictions on the equality impact assessments have been lifted by the Department and they are now available in the House of Commons Library. However, there are concerns that the equality impact assessments have identified that there will be groups disadvantaged by the closures but said very little about what is being done to mitigate those impacts. The assessments were produced before the one-to-one interviews were conducted with staff facing closure of their offices. It is likely that this process would further confirm the impact on people with protected characteristics.

Women form a significant majority of the DWP’s workforce, on some sites constituting over 75%. There are no tangible mitigations offered in these documents that are likely to compensate for the clear detriment that women face from this office closure programme. People with disabilities, particularly if they impair their ability to travel to work, are likely to face disproportionate impact from office closures as they will have to travel, in some cases by making significant journeys, further to work.

The DWP aims to mitigate the impact on disabled staff by exploring reasonable adjustments and flexible working arrangements. However, this is unlikely to provide sufficient mitigation as the Department is currently not prepared to fully embrace working from home as a redundancy avoidance. I am sure that people in Strangford and other rural parts of these islands have benefited, and Departments have benefited, from staff working from home, particularly those in the DWP, where there was a huge increase in the number of universal credit claimants, for example. DWP staff should be congratulated on the work that they did during that period and should not now have to face their offices being closed and the prospect of redundancy.

In some sites—for example, Hackney—there is a high percentage of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds. The proposed solution inevitably means longer travel at greater expense if they are able to relocate, which is a clear detriment for those impacted. In Blackburn, 36% of staff have been identified as being ethnic minority. Despite this, the DWP’s analysis is that there is no evidence to suggest that they will be negatively impacted. We believe that that analysis is flawed. There are high proportions of part-time workers, who are more likely to be carers, in many of these sites. Again, there is little by way of mitigation offered to those workers.

We are aware that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the permanent secretary invited a limited number of staff to attend a meeting on 26 May 2022 that they addressed with a presentation of the departmental plan for 2022-25. Once again, the DWP and Ministers have gone to staff without proper engagement with the trade unions. I would suggest that there should be full and proper consultation with the trade unions on the detail of a plan that has huge implications for trade union members, DWP staff and the public they serve. The plan identifies a cut in funding for staffing resources while at the same time introducing more work. It suggests a 12% cut in funding for staff over the three-year period. It also suggests a 16% increase in payments for universal credit, legacy benefits and pensions. This can only mean more work for less staff.

We want to see the Department take a realistic approach to a likely surge in demand for services as the impact of the war in Ukraine and the fall-out from the pandemic devastate the economy. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer many of the points that have been raised on this office closure programme and the concerns that we have for DWP staff, who deliver a great service. I hope that she will be able to confirm that there are no redundancies for those staff.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

I am checking whether anyone else present wishes to speak; there being time, I cannot stop that. Excellent; no Member has risen to their feet, so I call Minister Mims Davies.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 1:09, 23 June 2022

I thank Chris Stephens for securing the debate and for his immense interest in this issue, and I also note his register of interests declaration, but I want to take this opportunity to reassure him that there are currently no planned changes that would affect his constituency.

I have very proudly held the role of employment Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions for almost three years now and I greatly recognise the tireless efforts of our workforce up and down the country. From St Austell to Loughborough to Forres, I visit offices and meet staff regularly, and hear at first hand their experiences and some frustrations with the poor quality buildings, some of which have no proper kitchen facilities for example, but in which they are nevertheless delivering truly excellent DWP services.

Our staff are always positive and focused, and this was especially noticeable during the pandemic when their agility and commitment shone through as thousands of DWP staff were redeployed to process new claims, which doubled in a matter of weeks. This was a truly heroic effort, resulting in payment timeliness for our claimants remaining incredibly high and, vitally, vulnerable people receiving the support they needed in their time of need. I am proud and immensely grateful that our DWP Jobcentre Plus offices remained open throughout the pandemic for the most vulnerable.

Importantly, this transformation needs to be viewed alongside the significant recent investment in DWP frontline services. Since the start of the pandemic we have —or, rather, I have—opened 194 new temporary additional jobcentres as part of our rapid estate expansion programme to support our Plan for Jobs. We have also recruited 13,500 new work coaches in order to provide our claimants with the tailored face-to-face support they need. This new boost to our DWP workforce has played a leading role in delivering on our vital plan for jobs, getting people back into work and transitioning into growing sectors as we focus on building back better. I am incredibly proud of the over 163,000 young people under 25 most at risk of long-term unemployment due to covid impact who took advantage of the life-changing ability to take up a first job through the kickstart scheme and our brilliant Way to Work scheme which is on track to get half a million more people into work this year.

I want to strongly reassure Members here today that staff are being fully supported throughout this modernisation. While we are right-sizing our estate and making the DWP a better place to work—which is at the heart of this—we understand, and I very much do, that a change of work- place can be unsettling for people. However, we are committed to our plan of making our estate smaller, greener and—importantly, as we have seen with covid—more resilient.

These new sites will enable further progression and career opportunities due to larger teams being able to come together, meaning staff can more easily move between business lines and react to operational requirements, with more support in these larger cohorts. The support we are offering to our teams—to our people—absolutely includes regular one-to-ones with line managers about the impacts and confidential advice and support through the employee assistance programme, as well as CV and job application support if needed.

The DWP is absolutely committed to continuing to deliver for our customers, families and the economy. We need to continue to work positively with our teams to modernise and transform the way we deliver our service. As the hon. Gentleman says, that builds on the approach that was announced back in 2017. I am always struck by, and thankful for, just how positive and willing our DWP teams are to embrace the new changes and the challenges that we face in such a large operational Department. We believe that that means that we will drive better experiences for claimants and employees alike by building increased resilience in modernised and, crucially, higher quality sites, which will also reduce fraud and error.

These actions will generate savings for the taxpayer, which is the right and responsible approach that the Government must adopt, considering the fiscal position that we face. Given the recent increase in the cost of living, driven by global demand shock, the impact post covid and Russia’s unacceptable invasion of Ukraine, we are always looking for opportunities across Government to make taxpayers’ money go further. In reality, for the DWP, that means taking the decision to exit oversized, poor-quality estates when opportunities or—as in this case—lease breaks arise, making our public services more efficient and space-saving where we can.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I join the Minister in praising the supreme efforts of Department for Work and Pensions staff over the past couple of years, but why should those who will find it difficult to travel 20-odd miles to another site because of transport issues or disabilities face the prospect of losing their job? That seems to go against everything the Government claim to want for disabled customers, for example.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am trying to give some context and to reiterate to the hon. Gentleman that the DWP is the biggest public service Department. The current issue is that we occupy 20% of the civil service estate. It is right that we seek to reduce our footprint while committing to retain what makes us great—I absolutely agree with him about that—in our national presence, which means that we can deliver locally for our customers. I think that hon. Members will find it helpful if I provide some numbers to illustrate the point and, I hope, answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

The DWP currently operates from more than 920 buildings. In March 2022, it employed just over 92,000 people, but based on recent estimates, our buildings have the capacity for more than 158,000 people. More than 60% of our buildings are 30 years old or more; 3.3% of them currently meet the top two energy performance certificate ratings. The Department is committed to occupying only A and B-rated buildings by 2030. To answer one of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, we will be investing in the quality of the remaining estate, making sure that our buildings are the right places for our people to work. I believe that that will please him and those he represents.

The modification to a better estate will generate significant gross savings: it is estimated that £3.5 billion will be saved over a 30-year period, with ongoing annual savings of £80 million to £90 million realised from 2028-29, supporting the delivery of efficiency savings across Government. Importantly, we are bringing in a better quality of workspace for our employees, as the hon. Gentleman and many of our workers have requested. It is important to stress that the estates-driven rationalisation programme is ambitious in terms of how we reshape the DWP and how the Department works. I recognise the impacts on people, but it supports the ongoing modernisation and transformation that we also need to provide for our people to create career progression.

These changes will also support those Government priorities of fewer and better-quality buildings, investment in the condition of buildings, the future sustainability of the estate and, above all, our commitments to net zero. It is also about ensuring, vitally, that the Department maintains a footprint in Scotland and Wales and shows a firm and vital commitment to our precious Union. [Interruption.] You have to let me have that one. We are supporting our places for growth programme by committing to roles outside of London. It also supports levelling up. We are committed to retaining a presence in some of the most deprived areas throughout the nation and regions and creating career opportunity for our people.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

It is good to see the Department for Work and Pensions preparing itself for an independent Scotland, but that is not the point I want to make. The point I want to make to the Minister is on areas of economic deprivation. Some of these offices will be closing in areas of economic deprivation—I am thinking of Springburn in Glasgow, for example, and I have raised the concerns that the businesses have—which seems to go against the levelling-up agenda. How would the Minister square her argument with the fact that offices in areas of high economic deprivation are closing?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will go on to say how we are managing this and the opportunities that hybrid working affords us and our staff and how it supports caring and other responsibilities that people may have. I also draw back to the point of the nearly 200 new jobcentres—we are also heading towards 200 new youth hubs—that the DWP has invested in and brought forward as part of our plan for jobs. We are looking at a small part of a very large moving picture of a very large operational Department. For those affected, of course, this situation is concerning. The Department intends to make progress and during this pending review period, we have to set the foundation of the modernisation and transformation I have described.

Let me take the hon. Gentleman through the situation in Springburn in Glasgow, where 138 people are moving to Atlantic Quay. As part of the first tranche of conversations, all of the one-to-ones have been completed. I reassure him that only one of those 138 people is currently at risk. If people continue to live in the area, they will continue to spend in the area, especially through hybrid working.

On the question of fixed-term appointments, 8,800 permanent positions have been confirmed, with more offers. We have had to safeguard the opportunities for permanent staff, with 500 more offers—I do not know the exact number; it is around that number but it is a moving picture. I am trying to give the House an idea. We are continuing to engage with the attrition we have with an older workforce and with people looking to progress and stay, but we are also trying to make sure that those who have come in and given their all to the Department get the opportunity to stay with us.

To respond to Jim Shannon, I will take him through the issues in Northern Ireland. The areas are operated, as he will know, through the Department for Communities, and the sites affected are GB-only. Homeworking was a covid business-related opportunity measure. Hybrid working is absolutely there. It is not our preferred operating model for the DWP—our people need to be face-to-face with our claimants, and that is very important—but we have opportunities in terms of GB for outreach and help through the flexible support fund and partnerships within our local communities, and that is something I encourage. The DWP is not only in jobcentres; it is working in youth hubs, it is partnership working and it is supporting communities in a completely different way—not everyone will come and meet us in a jobcentre.

The recent additional JCP closures mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West are not related to the wider network design. However, the Department is taking opportunities over the coming years, as I have said, to improve incrementally our jobcentre network and the quality of the buildings both for colleagues and for customers. For example, we should get those jobcentres into town centres and on bus routes. We should use the opportunity to take forward some of those new temporary jobcentres, which offer better quality buildings and, above all, a better quality working experience.

Let me turn now to hybrid working. The Department has introduced hybrid working, where colleagues are expected to spend 40% of their time in the office. It is anticipated that this will help those colleagues who may need to travel a little further to get to their new sites. Relocating individual teams into current roles or into existing smaller offices does not fit. What we do not want to do is create more smaller offices. We are trying to create hubs of 300 to 500 plus people. As I have said, those hubs work well in terms of people being able to pivot into the operational needs.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

That was a helpful response to my questions on hybrid working. Does that suggest that all redundancies can be completely avoided if there were an offer of either hybrid or home working for staff? Is that the Department’s intention?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the point that I just made with regard to Glasgow Springburn. A total of 138 people are moving to Atlantic Quay. In terms of the one-to-ones, only one person is at risk at this point. This is, of course, an ongoing process of conversations around the redeployment, retraining and retaining of staff. We have an ageing workforce. We need to future-proof things and look after people and bring them forward. As I have said, this is only one moving part of what we are doing with our 92,000 people.

Drawing on that, the DWP is taking advantage of shifts in post-covid expectations around customer service delivery—not at the expense of face-to-face work—making use of the opportunity of estate lease breaks in 2023 to enable the Department to achieve its future service delivery aspirations. I want to reassure hon. Members that our people are at the heart of this transformation and that their needs will not be overlooked. The transformation is being delivered in two tranches over the next 18 months. Where possible, if an alternative strategic site has been identified, subject to colleagues’ ability to move to that new site, they will transfer, in their current role, to that new site. Where no consolidation site is available, all efforts—I reiterate the words “all efforts”—will focus on retaining and redeploying colleagues.

I have consistently reassured hon. Members, whose constituencies are affected, that the driver for this programme is not a reduction in our headcount. Where possible, colleagues in offices that are due to close are being offered opportunities to be redeployed, or retrained so that they can undertake a new role in the DWP, or be offered opportunities with other Government Departments. We are currently working with 15 other Government Departments, which are madly keen on having those people with DWP operational experience join them. Absolutely, we note that recent announcements about the future of the civil service may have caused additional concern. The DWP will consider its response to the challenge and will come forward with its proposals in due course.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

The Minister has been extremely generous in taking my interventions. She outlined the discussions that she has had with other Government Departments, which is very welcome. Can she outline the discussions that she is having with the trade unions within the DWP, because, as yet, that is not something that she has mentioned in her reply?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman keeps interrupting me. I can assure him that I will get to that in good time. Let me just follow through on this and then I will reply to his question.

Let me return to how we will support those who may be affected by our estate changes. Again, our focus continues to be on the best quality of estate, alongside retaining colleagues and supporting them. We are absolutely determined to continue to follow up on the conversations that we are having with individuals. Around 5,800 individual conversations with colleagues took place in 29 of the 43 affected sites. Pleasingly, following those conversations, more than 80% of colleagues have confirmed that they can move to a new site.

On trade union engagement, consultation is ongoing with the trade unions. Meetings are scheduled for twice a week, and they ensure that appropriate time is dedicated to discussions with the unions about their members’ concerns. In the period from 6 January to date, we have spent more than 65 hours in discussions with the unions, and we are fully committed to continuing that as we deliver the programme’s outcomes. Officials have also arranged a number of deep-dive sessions in consultation with the unions, including one with MyCSP on the civil service compensation scheme. I hope that that allays the hon. Gentleman’s fears about our conversations, which are ongoing, important conversations. I do not want this transformational change to impact our operations and, above all, the morale of our staff.

A clear measure of the success of the DWP’s updated hybrid working is that we have more flexible and inclusive workplaces that are capable of adapting to the needs of employees—those with health conditions, for example—and our customers. That has been welcomed by much of our workforce. In return, as I mentioned, the Department has been able to retain more people by enabling them to commit to moving with their role to an alternative, larger site. At those sites, they will get more training, learning and progression.

On 11 May, the Department started the engagement of redeployment activity for about 1,000 colleagues in the first tranche who were impacted by the closure of their site. The process has already successfully matched more than 100 colleagues with new roles, and it continues to happen on a weekly basis. As a responsible employer, the Department has had to explore all options, including voluntary redundancy. That just might be an option for some, depending again on personal circumstances and on the outcome of our redeployment activity. However, voluntary redundancy is the absolute last resort, and it is boring, but I will continue to say that all our efforts are to retain, retrain and redeploy both within the DWP and in all other Government Departments. We will continue to do that until all avenues have been exhausted. Importantly, the scheme does allow our colleagues to request a quotation to allow them to consider what it might mean for them if an offer is made. No offers will be made until September. Every effort throughout this period is about supporting colleagues with redeployment.

Colleagues will be delighted to hear that I will conclude. Reducing the back-of-house estate’s footprint will deliver value for money for the taxpayer, with significant gross savings of £3.5 billion over a 30-year period. We will deliver better quality estates and better quality working experience and progression opportunities. I hope to have reassured the hon. Gentleman and the House that we at the DWP are doing everything we can to redeploy and support DWP colleagues who are impacted by the modernisation and that they will continue to be fully supported throughout the process.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.