It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank my hon. Friend Chris Stephens for securing the debate, and all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed.
It is vital that we stand up for workers’ rights in these times of austerity. It is critical that the Government engage with unions in a meaningful way and include them in the determination and resolution of any appropriate issue such as office closures. My hon. Friends have covered the lack of interface with the Scottish Government; their points were well made and I will not repeat them. My constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is affected by the cuts to jobcentre locations, as are the constituencies of many other Members present. I commend them for their attendance; appropriately, given the debate’s cross-party nature, we have adopted a collective response.
Coatbridge is a local DWP back office that employs about 250 people and is facing closure as a result of these cuts. I have been in contact with union representatives about the closure since the announcement was made and I recently attended the annual general meeting of the local branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union to discuss the impact of the closure on its members and on the local community. I was particularly concerned to be informed by the union that the DWP’s announcement was made without any consultation with the workers or the union at all. The DWP did not inform me of the lack of consultation when I was contacted about the closure. Although the DWP has stated that the closure will not involve any job losses, it has indicated that the jobs in question will be moved to alternate locations in central Glasgow or Motherwell, both of which are approximately half an hour’s drive away—and that is if we assume no traffic delays.
Coatbridge is a community filled with young families. Many people base decisions about who they work for on the location of their potential workplace: they choose to work in locations that allow them to drop their children at school in the morning or be near an elderly or poorly relative. There is also the issue of additional travel costs for the predominantly local staff to and from Glasgow and Motherwell—again, colleagues have covered that well, so I will not repeat the points they made. For many workers affected by the cut, the loss of that essential proximity to home, the additional travel and the associated costs may mean that they need to seek alternative employment. I can hardly see how a Government can describe themselves as pro-family when they put so many in such a precarious position.
The union members I spoke to were concerned about the dilution and inevitable reduction in the quality of services provided to service users that the cuts will cause, as was well articulated by my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan. The closure will affect not only current employees and their families but local businesses, as my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier articulated well. The DWP facility that faces closure is just off the main street in Coatbridge and, like many town centres throughout the country, it suffers from massive reductions in footfall, and subsequently business, for high street retailers and service providers. It seemed as if things could not get any worse for our main street retailers, but the facility’s relocation out of Coatbridge town centre will be yet another blow for the businesses in and around it and for the other businesses, such as childcare businesses, restaurants and takeaways, that support the local workforce in my constituency and the surrounding constituencies.
Unfortunately, the announced closure is only one of a decades-long series of ideologically driven cuts to services in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill from a London-centric UK Government. It gives the lie to the claim we hear from London about caring conservatism. Nothing could be further from the truth. I urge the Minister to focus on the decentralisation of services if he and his Government are truly serious about a more inclusive Britain for all. Like my colleagues, I ask the Minister to reconsider, to halt the closures and to review them after proper assessments and a proper consultation process have been carried out.