Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Scottish National Party, Glasgow South 3:47 pm, 16th March 2017

Absolutely. With the Castlemilk jobcentre, all the people who use it will effectively have to use what the Department calls the Newlands jobcentre—it is called that, but it is actually in Pollokshaws, which is even further away than Newlands. All the people from Castlemilk who have to use that jobcentre will have an 8-mile round trip to get there and back. At the minute, no matter where someone is in Castlemilk, they can walk to the jobcentre in, at the most, maybe seven minutes, and that is for a perfectly able-bodied person.

I do not see the need to put those kinds of barriers in people’s way for trying to access a service that has been in their community for a long, long time. The Department seems to think that people can get from Castlemilk to the jobcentre in Pollokshaws in under 30 minutes—I think that is what it has said. I say, “Well, good luck with that,” because, having gone around the constituency countless times over the years I have lived in Glasgow, which is my entire adult life, I certainly have never been able to make that journey in just over 20 minutes.

However, I will come to my final point, which is on the consultation. We had to drag the Government to publish their consultation on the Glasgow jobcentres online; they had no intention of doing that. [Interruption.] The Minister can shake his head or gesticulate in any way he wants, but they had no intention of putting that on the Department for Work and Pensions website. It was welcome that they did, and it was also welcome that they extended the consultation for around two weeks. I am not sure what the Minister is so flabbergasted by, but I look forward to hearing about it none the less.

It was quite remiss of the Government not to take the time to write to every single person who would have been affected by these closures. When someone goes to the jobcentre to register, there is not a bit of information that the staff do not get from them, so the Government could have made it easy for those for whom this closure would be a big issue to take part in the consultation. Rather than just having fliers and putting up a couple of posters in jobcentres, the Government could have sent a consultation response form directly to their houses, or by email, rather than relying on Members of Parliament or members of the public—I had several people willing to do this, even though they were not exactly happy about it—standing outside jobcentres and informing people that they were going to close, which was the first time they had heard about it. In my view, it was quite wrong of Ministers not to inform MPs about this matter and for us to have to read about it in the press, but that is nothing in comparison with members of the public who use the jobcentres finding out from a stranger in the street campaigning outside a jobcentre.

The Government have handled the consultation poorly; however, I would like to hear what the responses to the consultation contain. I would also like to hear how many responses there have been and to know when the announcement on closures will be made. My understanding is that we can expect an announcement towards the end of March—that is, around about the time that article 50 is in full-blown scale, so it will perhaps be a good time to bury bad news.

Nevertheless, I ask the Minister this quite sincerely: can he commit to making an oral statement on the Floor of the House and to not sneaking this news out in a written statement, a press release, or in some fashion that avoids proper parliamentary scrutiny? If he gives me nothing else today—U-turns are quite fashionable this week, but I am not sure he will do another—I ask him to commit at the very least to making a full oral statement on the Floor of the House, so that Members can scrutinise the decision further.