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Social Security Benefits

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many benefit offices were in operation in each year since 1998; and how many offices scheduled for closure in each such year had the closure suspended. (280916)

[holding answer 18 June 2009]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is the responsibility of the acting chief executive, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Ruth Owen:

The Secretary of State has asked Mel Groves to reply to your question asking how many benefit offices have been open in each year since 1998; and how many offices scheduled for closure in each such year had the closure suspended. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to Mel Groves as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus. As Mel Groves is currently on annual leave, I am replying in his absence.

Information is only available on Jobcentre Plus offices since April 2002, when Jobcentre Plus was created by the merger of the former Employment Service and Benefits Agency. I have attached a table at Annex 1 of the available information.

Jobcentre Plus inherited around 1,500 offices from the merger of the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service in 2002. We have modernised our Jobcentre network to improve customer service, rationalising our estate to provide excellent high street coverage and a single, integrated customer facing office, at the same time reducing cost to the tax payer. We remain the largest office network in Government with 741 modern Jobcentres. This high street presence is supported by 31 modern, industry standard, contact centres and 79 main benefit processing centres.

Jobcentres continue to provide an essential service—especially to those customers most in need of tailored help. However, the great majority of our services (in common with most large, modern organisations) are now also delivered through the telephone and internet. For example, to give customers more convenient access we have around half a million vacancies on-line at any time (our website receives close to one million job searches every working day), and new claims to benefit are predominantly taken by telephone with some taken on-line.

Wherever we have considered the closure of a public facing office we have undertaken a full consultation with local stakeholders, including MPs. When finalising our Service Delivery Plans, our District Managers take account of this consultation and may, in the light of that consultation, decide not to pursue closure. We do not retain records of offices that remain open following a consultation exercise, but, in the light of the current economic conditions and welfare reform changes planned for the next two to three years a decision was taken in November 2008 to suspend the closure of 25 Jobcentres which were being considered for closure. Three small offices in London, where closure had been previously announced, subsequently closed this year. There will be no new Jobcentre closures while the current economic conditions exist.

Annex 1

Jobcentre Plus offices open to the public now all modernised: 2002 to date1

January

Region

Currently

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

East of England

57

57

66

67

72

84

85

90

90

East Midlands

53

53

54

56

69

71

75

83

83

London

74

77

80

90

114

121

132

138

139

North East

45

45

47

49

53

60

64

65

65

North West

97

97

104

112

129

139

153

160

160

Scotland

99

99

100

103

125

139

150

153

153

South East

74

74

77

82

97

107

121

123

123

South West

57

57

79

83

91

102

114

118

118

Wales

63

63

63

64

87

95

108

111

111

West Midlands

63

63

67

79

98

105

108

115

116

Yorkshire and the Humber

59

59

60

61

68

79

87

88

88

Totals of all regions

741

744

797

846

1,003

1,102

1,197

1,244

1,246

1 Prior to implementing our network of Benefit Delivery Centres, from April 2006, many sites delivered both customer facing and benefit processing services. This table reflects the rationalisation of the former network of Employment Service and Benefit Agency offices right through to the current network where all offices are integrated Job Centre offices.