It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Walker. I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Stephens on securing this critical debate.
As the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire, I would like to put on the record the fact that the Alexandria jobcentre in the Vale of Leven in my constituency has been proposed for closure. Colleagues from all parties have made strong cases for the reversal of the UK Government’s proposals to close a number of jobcentres in their respective constituencies. I hope the Minister will take their points on board. I feel for the Minister, because I am led to believe that there will be a closure in his own constituency, which must be going down like a lead balloon.
Although I agree with the arguments put forward by colleagues, there are special circumstances that set the Alexandria jobcentre apart. The catchment area shares similar characteristics with others earmarked for closure. There are high levels of deprivation and unemployment, which, as in other urban areas, must be taken into consideration. The Alexandria jobcentre differs, in that it serves a population that is not only urban but suburban, in the true sense, and a rural community, which results in a set of unique challenges for those living in those communities, especially given that the area includes the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park boundary.
An argument put forward by the DWP to support its proposal is that it is now easier to access jobcentre services, whether over the phone, online or in person. Let me take those in order. For citizens living in rural areas, the practical challenges are many. People whose line connections depend on weather conditions, which in my constituency are temperamental at best, do not have easy access to services by phone, as the Department argues. Given BT Openreach’s dubious record in elements of the rural sections of my constituency, there are difficulties in online connectivity.