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

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have been 30,000 job losses in the civil service. As I will point out, there will be more in relation to this particular exercise, as the Government admitted in written answers to me. He is also correct about the lack of an equality impact assessment, which I will also mention.

This is a deeply flawed process, tainted by the lack of consultation with local community planning partners. In Glasgow, the Department for Work and Pensions is meant to be a key player in the process, but the closures were announced without consultation, and that is about as far from a “One Glasgow” approach as we can get. Nor to the closures do anything to support a locally agreed priority of youth employment.

Instead of respecting the terms of the Smith agreement, the UK Government announced the closures without any advance consultation with the communities that will be affected and in so doing bypassed the Scottish Government. Paragraph 58 of the Smith Commission report states:

“As the single face-to-face channel for citizens to access all benefits delivered by DWP, Jobcentre Plus will remain reserved. However, the UK and Scottish Government will identify ways to further link services through methods such as co-location wherever possible and establish more formal mechanisms to govern the Jobcentre Plus network in Scotland.”

Ministers have had to publicly admit, including in a written answer to me, that they expect at least 750 DWP staff to lose their jobs and they have refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. Jobs will disappear through this process, not only directly but indirectly. That will be less visible in cities, where jobs in call centres, delivery companies and coffee shops have replaced the thousands of admin and clerical posts that have been cut year on year for longer than I can remember. Every public sector office closure leads to money being taken out of the local economy and reduces the opportunities for young people to build a career, instead of just holding down a job. The impact on smaller cities and towns should not be underestimated. For some communities it is the equivalent of a Ravenscraig or a Linwood. Local traders are affected, small businesses fold, young people move away if they can and the local economy declines.

Finally, I want to highlight the link between the push to digital services and office closures, when it becomes much more difficult to find a person to talk to in a public office. I have spoken recently about the unfair telephone tax, where the most vulnerable are hit with call charges for contacting the DWP and other government services. The DWP is a long way from being digital by default. A vicious circle is emerging, whereby access to advice and support is being blocked to those who need it most. Every Member here can testify that our offices are now providing more and more of that support through our constituency casework. Widespread jobcentre closures will only increase the workload on other staff in the DWP, giving them less time to spend on individuals.

I will now leave it to other hon. Members to voice their concerns and no doubt vent their frustrations about this botched and flawed process.