Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West 3:00 pm, 16th March 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Jobcentre Plus office closures.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, for which there is cross-party support. With the exception of an urgent question, this is the first time that the House has managed to debate this issue since the announcement of UK-wide office closures. This is an opportunity for hon. Members to represent their constituents and to discuss the effects that the office closures will have on their constituencies. As has been indicated, there is widespread disquiet about the impact that the jobcentre closures will have. I will keep my opening remarks brief to allow hon. Members with closures in their constituencies the opportunity to inform us all of the local impacts on their constituents and communities.

The House is rightly exercised—as are many hon. Members—by the haphazard nature of the closures and the lack of evidence or rationale to support them, other than that they will save money in the short term. The lack of an adequate equality impact assessment is particularly damning. The closures have been presented by the Government as a straightforward process of rationalising the estate—that is, as sensible, considered and thought through in great detail. I would suggest otherwise, however. Far from this being a planned process to make the most of the expiry of contracts to improve services and locate them where they are needed most, it is a cost-cutting, penny-pinching cuts programme being done with poor to non-existent consideration of local conditions.

Instead of consulting appropriately with local partners and seeking to co-locate with other services to improve the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus services, the Government have embarked upon a Google Maps, back-of-an-envelope exercise, based on achieving a targeted percentage of closures—10% overall, but 50% in Glasgow, as I am sure we will hear. Instead of enabling jobseekers to easily access other services—such as support with housing, childcare, debt management and health conditions—to help them to overcome their barriers to work, the Government have started with the basic premise of how many offices they can close and then worked backwards.