Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 3:55 pm, 16th March 2017

It is an outrage. My hon. Friend highlights something that makes a mockery of the suggestion that this will save money.

Those who do not have an internet connection because their area has not yet had substantial investment in broadband connectivity—in my area we need investment in the copper wiring, never mind new fibre—cannot access the services online as easily as the Department presumes. Many urban, suburban and rural citizens simply cannot afford to sign up to an internet provider. That also holds true in relation to phone and mobile operators.

Reducing the number of jobcentres and moving those services to a central location—in my constituency, down to Dumbarton—will make it more difficult for citizens to access those so-called local services in person. It will result in longer journeys at a greater cost to those who are already struggling to pay the bills, and it may exacerbate health conditions. In certain parts of my consistency in the winter, it is not an easy journey, especially for people coming from the national park end. To suggest that those individuals can claim back any cost incurred through the longer journey misses the bigger point. They are already struggling financially, and the lack of awareness from the Government and specifically the Department is quite unnerving.

To ensure the best service for citizens, all interested parties must be involved. I welcome West Dunbartonshire Council’s proactive cross-party approach to tackling these issues in the best way for our constituents. I urge the Minister in the strongest possible terms to engage constructively with the local authority to retain those local services. In the light of that, I ask him to draw its attention to the policy, because there are different policy frameworks across the UK. For Scotland, I urge the Department to read the report by the Christie commission on the future delivery of public services, which shows how that delivery might be achieved with community planning partners. The clue is in the name: it is about partners and partnership.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend Mhairi Black cannot be here today for personal reasons, and she asked me to raise a few points on her behalf. The Department announced that it was relocating 300 jobs out of her constituency into the city of Glasgow, with no consideration of the impact on the local economy. In addition, no consideration has been given to how existing staff will be affected and how the travel time will impact on their lives. That could be a major factor that may force some existing staff to consider taking redundancy, as any move may be impractical. Why is the DWP abandoning a purpose-built office to take on a new lease?

To sum up, I hope that the Minister and his civil servants will take on board the valid concerns expressed by all Members and be proactive in responding, in particular by recognising the opportunities for co-location and partnership working for local services in local communities. I am sure I speak on behalf of all Members in praising the staff and those from the PCS union. I have been meeting them to ensure that this is kept to the fore as a major issue for us to debate.