To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
(1) whether her Department consulted disability organisations on the most recent programme of refurbishment to Jobcentre Plus offices;
(2) whether the tendering contract for the most recent refurbishment to the Jobcentre Plus offices stipulated the provision of accessible seating for elderly and disabled people in Jobcentre Plus offices.
The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.
Letter from Mel Groves:
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your questions asking: whether her Department consulted disability organisations prior to the most recent programme of refurbishment to Jobcentre Plus offices and whether the tendering contract for the most recent refurbishment to the Jobcentre Plus offices stipulated the provision of accessible seating in Jobcentre Plus offices. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
During the programme to roll out Jobcentre Plus offices, in the period 2002 to 2006, Jobcentre Plus worked in partnership with the Department's Diversity and Equality specialist, to ensure the changes met the needs of all our customers. The Jobcentre Plus Project developed a Jobcentre Plus Environmental Guide (JPEG) in association with the project architects which referenced all relevant external legislation including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). DDA requires all providers of public services to ensure that services to customers can be accessed by all, whether that is in regard to the physical office environments or by other means. The JPEG was reviewed throughout the rollout programme to ensure compliance with the Act. This was reflected both in the standards and specifications deployed in the physical refurbishment of our offices and in the design of specific components.
The tendering exercise for the national roll out of Jobcentre Plus offices between 2002 and 2006 identified a range of customer seating which complied with statutory requirements. The scope of the tenders included a range of design options that took account of our business-related Health and Safety considerations and also met key customer needs such as comfort, visibility and ease of use. Consultation with the Department's Diversity and Equality specialists provided Jobcentre Plus with assurances that the broadest range of customer requirements would be met.
As part of the planning for delivery of services through the new Jobcentre Plus network, each District drew up a local service delivery plan which was the subject of consultation with a range of local stakeholders, including customer representatives. Customer Service Directors have recently been asked to review their existing service delivery arrangements in meeting the challenge of the current economic climate, taking account of the planned welfare reform changes for the next two to three years.
This exercise has identified that a number of Jobcentre Plus offices currently face capacity pressures. These pressures will be met through a range of solutions. This includes making our services more accessible to customers by providing a range of support through outreach, often delivering advisory and other support on partners' premises. We are supplementing these measures by operating extended opening hours in some locations where the need for this is identified locally, including some offices opening to the public on Saturday. In the light of the increase in customer demand we have embarked on a programme to convert or extend our existing buildings where necessary, deploying existing components including similar seating to that already installed as part of the 2002-2006 roll out of Jobcentre Plus offices.
However, we will only acquire new space where all other measures are insufficient.