Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:08 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 4:08 pm, 16th March 2017

I recognise, of course, the difficult position that staff in Barrow are in and I join the hon. Gentleman in the tribute that he paid to the immensely valuable work that they do. I fully recognise, as he does, the accumulated experience that that group of dedicated staff has. One-to-one conversations will be going on in Barrow and, indeed, in all other locations where there are affected staff. There will be some limited opportunities for staff in Barrow jobcentre, but I am not suggesting that that covers everybody.

The industrial injuries work rightly raised by the hon. Gentleman is moving to Barnsley, which is an existing centre with experience and expertise. Overall for that work, reducing volume demand is projected over the next five years, and we do not expect an impact on service to the customer.

The Department has already made a commitment to support anyone who chooses to relocate in the event of a site closure. That would include the payment of additional travel expenses for up to three years. However, the fact remains that the Department has significantly more capacity across its network than is needed to serve the needs of our customers, even allowing, of course, for a sensible margin. It is imperative that we strive towards more modern and dynamic delivery methods.

Although there is no statutory requirement for consultation on the estate changes to jobcentres, we are conducting consultation on all proposed closures of jobcentres that fall outside what are known as the ministerial criteria. It is not unreasonable to expect claimants to travel to an office that is within 3 miles, or 20 minutes by public transport, of their existing jobcentre. Where a proposed move is outside those criteria, we have chosen to consult publicly both stakeholders and claimants to ensure that the full implications of the closure are considered before we make a final decision. To enhance the profile of such consultations, we have written to local stakeholders and have distributed leaflets and put up posters at affected sites. We have undertaken public consultation where we think the proposals may have a significant effect on claimants. The objective is to ensure that the effects of our proposals are fully considered before any final decisions are made, and I welcome the engagement and responses that we have had from local stakeholders.

We have had a total of 290 responses from across the three sites in Glasgow. Those include responses from claimants, Members of Parliament, including some present here, interested third-party organisations and the wider public. Alongside taking into account the views of a range of stakeholders via consultation, I have met a number of fellow Members of Parliament to discuss how proposed changes to the estate will impact at local level. I will be considering the feedback to all the public consultations and I reiterate to hon. Members that these are genuinely proposals at this stage. When we make final decisions on the design of our estate, we will do so with all the feedback that we have had in mind. That may include considering additional options for outreach or indeed something wider—nothing is off the table at this stage.