Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:21 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 3:21 pm, 16th March 2017

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank my hon. Friend Chris Stephens for securing today’s important debate through the Backbench Business Committee; I also thank all those who supported the application, and the Members who are participating today.

We are back again: this is the third full debate on the issue in which I have participated. I am rather disappointed that many of the questions and points raised in the first two are yet to be addressed by the Department for Work and Pensions. Parliamentary questions tabled by me and my colleagues have received poor quality answers. At least one thing can be said of the Department: it is consistent in its handling of the matter. Right from the start, it has been a shambles. As we have heard, after the news broke in the press that half Glasgow’s jobcentres were to be axed, it took seven hours for the Department to write to the affected MPs and inform us. It did not see fit to inform us or even consult us; nor did it bother to speak with the devolved Administration in Scotland.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West said, paragraph 58 of the Smith commission report states that

“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.”

The report emphasised that the Scottish Government would have greater responsibility, jointly with the UK Government, in relation to Jobcentre Plus. Yet that did not happen. Not only were the Scottish Government kept in the dark; I have discovered through written parliamentary questions that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not even informed of the specific plans for the jobcentre closures in Glasgow before the information was made public. Why were neither the devolved Administration at Holyrood nor the Scotland Office made aware of DWP plans? Was it arrogance or ignorance that led the DWP to act in such a cavalier fashion, with such disregard for those alongside whom it is supposed to be working constructively? I will be kind and say it was ignorance of the needs of the people of Scotland.

The Department will have to listen to the views of those who rely on the services, and meet the needs of the people of Scotland. It needs to understand that the impact of the closures is part of an intricate local picture. I wonder whether the Minister knows, for instance, of the issues affecting Cambuslang in my constituency, where the Main Street jobcentre is due to close next year. Is the Department aware that Royal Bank of Scotland closed its doors there just months ago, that local traders have subsequently suffered a reported 30% drop in footfall, or that the two remaining banks, TSB and Clydesdale, have announced that they too are to close in the coming months? Has it considered at all the cumulative impact that those closures will have along with the closure of a major resource such as the jobcentre? I am guessing the answer to all of those questions is no. Perhaps if Ministers had bothered to consult me, they would be better informed.

The Department will have seriously to make up for its former ignorance by consulting service users, local stakeholders—such as the local Church of Scotland minister Neil Glover, who has spoken out against the jobcentre closure and described it as a moral issue— and elected representatives, and by working with the Scottish Government. Scottish Employability and Training Minister Jamie Hepburn has written to and met Ministers from the Department, not only to express grave concerns but to seek clarity on the issue. He has requested that UK Ministers meet benefit recipients and others from the communities that will be affected by the proposals.

It is vital that the UK Government should consult properly and consider all options, including co-location opportunities. The Scottish Government are proactively exploring opportunities to co-locate jobcentre services with local partners to ease the impact on individuals and communities. The Department should do likewise, and ensure that the Scottish Government are fully engaged with the process.

As I have said, this is the third debate on the subject. It is frustrating that we have to bring up the same issues again. I ask the Minister today to take seriously the points that have been raised—I shall go further, and ask for a guarantee that the jobcentre in Cambuslang will not close its doors. If he decides that it should, at the very least we need a presence in Cambuslang to ensure that claimants will not have to travel further, with increased travel costs, all the way to Rutherglen. My constituents deserve better than the approach taken by the UK Government so far.