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

To allow two minutes for the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West, I had better not.

When a jobcentre closes, the Department has a comprehensive set of outreach and support measures in place to support claimants in accessing the services they need. We embrace closer working with local organisations and support outreach activity at community and partner facilities, including local authorities across the country. That allows work coaches and partner organisations to support the shared needs of claimants. By working with a range of partners, including local authorities, we are able to expand the range and offer of our services.

We respond to personal circumstances. For claimants who are unable to attend a jobcentre due to their vulnerability or the complexity of the transaction required with the Department, we have robust procedures in place, including home visits and maintaining a claim by post. Travel expenses are refundable under certain circumstances, including where claimants are required to attend a jobcentre more frequently than fortnightly. Claimants can also choose to attend an alternative jobcentre to the one allocated to them if the jobcentre they have been allocated is not the closest or least costly for them.

I touched briefly on Lewisham. On Sheffield, there has been a consultation. The proposal is that Sheffield would better utilise space at Cavendish Court, which is currently only 45% utilised. Eastern Avenue is 74% utilised, but the move would not work in reverse because of the different configurations and sizes of the buildings, and Cavendish Court and Bailey Court are respectively 4.4 miles and 4.7 miles away.

The Scottish National party spokesman, Martin Docherty-Hughes, spoke about partnership and outreach. I entirely agree about the need for partnership and for continuing to enhance it; the West Dunbartonshire employability hub is a particularly good example of that. As I mentioned, we are always keen to do more and to discover such opportunities, and that includes close working with Skills Development Scotland and others.

The proposed changes are the result of careful analysis and planning. While I appreciate hon. Members’ concerns about the proposed closures, and again thank the hon. Member for Glasgow South West for securing this debate, the rationale for the proposals is clear. We are working towards a more modern, dynamic estate. This will ensure that we continue to have sufficient flexible capacity to deliver the best services we can to our customers. It is important to stress again that all the specific changes to the estate that have been raised in this debate are still only a set of proposals, and we are continuing the consultation process with our staff to assess how each might be affected. I want to reiterate that in the event that co-location or closures are required, we expect that to have no impact on the excellent services we continue to provide to customers across the country.