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Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether it is necessary for jobcentres to occupy prime trading positions; if he is satisfied that the rental or capital outlay is justified; and whether he proposes any economies or savings in this regard in view of the proposed expansion of jobcentres to a total of 800 in 1981–82.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that job-centres were developed to bring together all the local services of the employment service in a way which was administratively practical, operationally efficient and publicly visible and convenient. To meet these criteria it is essential that jobcentres are centrally located within the area they serve. This does not, however, always mean that a prime high street site is necessary.A proposal to replace an existing employment office with a jobcentre on a different site is given careful consideration. Where the existing employment office is on a satisfactory site and is capable of being modernised it is converted into a jobcentre. Where the existing premises are not on a satisfactory site, or cannot be converted satisfactorily, the estimated cost of the proposed new premises is measured against existing costs and against estimated changes in the value of business. In reaching a decision cost effectiveness is the single most important consideration.Jobcentres are not normally opened unless these conditions are met. However, the limited research undertaken by MSC shows that less well sited jobcentres are markedly less cost effective than job-centres in better locations. In general, therefore, I am content with the rental or capital outlay on jobcentres.Although the Government support the plans of the MSC to modernise the public employment service they are reviewing expenditure in this area in the light of their plans and priorities on public expenditure generally. In the current financial year £1 million—out of a planned expenditure of £6·4 million—has been cut from the jobcentre programme and in common with other Government Departments the future expenditure plans of the MSC are being closely scrutinised.