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Jobcentre Plus Closures

Volume 624: debated on Monday 27 March 2017

8. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the proposed closure of Jobcentre Plus offices on claimants’ travel times and costs. (909480)

The Department has sought to maintain the services that it offers claimants while minimising the impact on claimants as far as possible. These proposals may mean slightly longer and slightly shorter journeys for some individual claimants, and that has been taken into account in the setting of the criteria.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) on the campaign that she has run with the Public and Commercial Services Union and local residents to keep open the Eastern Avenue jobcentre, which serves both our constituencies. Will the Minister confirm that the only reason for closing Eastern Avenue is to save money, and that if it closes, extra capacity will be needed at Cavendish Court and Woodhouse jobcentres? In the light of that need for extra capacity, will he produce figures showing whether there will actually be any net saving as a result of the closure of Eastern Avenue?

It is very cheeky to ask three questions even when asked with the skill and confidence of the Chair of the Select Committee.

I hope that I can provide the hon. Gentleman with some comfort. First, let me say that saving money is not a bad thing in itself; it is a good thing, and this overall programme will save some £180 million nationwide. That means that we can reinvest in frontline staff, which will have the biggest effect on helping people to return to work. As for the specific case of Sheffield, the changes will increase the utilisation of the entire estate from 51% to 69% when some of the business moves, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, to the other two sites.

I congratulate the Minister on surviving a recent grilling from young ambassadors at a meeting of the all-party group on youth employment. I welcome the news that fewer young people are unemployed to start with but, at 554,000, the figure is still too high. Will the Minister read the all-party group’s report with a view to ensuring that there are fewer young claimants in the first place?

I look forward very much to reading the report. We know that any day spent unemployed can have a lasting effect on people, especially at the start of their careers when they are young, and it is therefore particularly important for us to redouble our efforts.

It is clear from the Minister’s answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) that he does not know how much the closure of East Avenue jobcentre will save. We do not know how much rent is being spent there, and we do not know how much needs to be spent on Woodhouse or Cavendish Court to increase capacity for the additional claimants whom they will have to serve. Will the Minister commit himself to giving the House those figures before he makes his final decision and final statement to the House?

All the staff and services from Eastern Avenue will move to Bailey Court in West Street and Cavendish Court in Bank Street. I can reassure the hon. Lady that we have, of course, taken account in our projections and modelling of the exact space that will be required for those people and that level of workload.

The proposed closure of the Jobcentre Plus at Finchley Central, which is a major transport hub, will mean moving the jobcentre to High Barnet, which is on the periphery of London. That will mean a 40-minute journey and a £3 bus ride for my constituents. Will the Minister agree to revisit these proposals?

We have embarked on a programme of change which comes at the end of a 20-year private finance initiative contract. There is both an opportunity and a requirement to review what is needed on the estate. Rents are particularly high in London, and are therefore particularly challenging in the commercial market. We have sought to minimise the effect on claimants, to ensure that there is a good coverage of services within reach, and to run a consultation when a new jobcentre is more than 3 miles away and a journey on public transport takes more than 20 minutes.

10. When his Department plans to publish its equality impact assessment on the proposed closure of Jobcentre Plus offices. (909482)

Throughout the development of these proposals, we have been mindful at every turn of the impact on staff and customers. Both statistical analysis and local knowledge have informed the proposals, which are still subject to consultation with staff and, when appropriate, with the public.

Nearly a quarter of the jobcentres earmarked for closure are in London, and, as the Minister will know, both the disability and the black and minority ethnic unemployment rates are higher in the capital than elsewhere. Is the reason for the delay in the equality impact assessment the fact that it will show a disproportionate impact on the groups that typically need the most support to gain access to employment?

No, we have been mindful throughout of our duties under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. Equality analysis will help to inform the final decision-making process, and it is an integral part of the thinking and process throughout.

Following the publication of the Women and Equalities Committee report on Muslim women in the workplace, what work is the Minister doing to ensure that minority groups in which unemployment remains stubbornly high are prioritised at jobcentres across the UK?

There are a number of very good local projects working with local organisations. I do not have the list in front of me, but there is some good work going on, and we seek to find where best practice exists and see how far it can be replicated.