Yesterday’s announcement confirmed the proposals that were published in January. These changes will mean that the DWP will be able to offer a more efficient service, while delivering good value for the taxpayer, saving more than £140 million a year for the next 10 years. Eight out of 10 claims for jobseeker’s allowance and 99% of applications for universal credit full service are now made online, which means that DWP buildings are used much less, with 20% of the estate currently underutilised. Our estate plans must reflect the way customers interact with DWP now and in the future, not how they behaved in the past. I can assure the House that these changes will not lead to a reduction in the number of frontline jobcentre staff; in fact, to continue improving the service provided to customers, jobcentres are actively recruiting in many areas.
These changes are being made in consultation with DWP employees and their trade unions, which will ensure that the important connections that jobcentre staff have with the local community are preserved and customer services can be maintained.
The DWP’s private finance initiative contract with Telereal Trillium expires next March, which gives us an opportunity to review how we deliver our services. We have sought to rationalise our estate in a way that delivers value for the taxpayer and makes best use of the space available, while continuing to deliver vital support to our claimants and enabling the delivery of our reform agenda.
Members will recall that in December last year the Government announced that they were planning to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow. In January this year, they set out plans for further closures, amounting to the closure of more than one in 10 jobcentres across the UK. These closures have the potential for the loss of up to 750 jobs. Yesterday, the Department announced via a written ministerial statement that just six of the original 78 jobcentres earmarked for closure will remain open, and only 11 of the 80 planned to co-locate with local authorities have been given a reprieve. Two additional jobcentres that were to stay open have been added to the closure list.
The impact of the closures will undoubtedly be felt most by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. By closing such a large proportion of the DWP estate, the Government would be forcing claimants to travel further to access the vital services that they need, thus having an impact on the lives of sick and disabled people, carers and parents with young children, so will the Minister commit now to publish the equality analysis on each site that is being closed? Currently these are secret, and they should be made public. Furthermore, the Government plan to subject an additional 1 million claimants to in-work conditionality, a process under universal credit by which people in work may be required to attend jobcentres. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on demand for jobcentre services as a result of increased in-work conditionality?
The decision to close jobcentres on this scale at the same time as accelerating the roll-out of the universal credit full digital service makes no sense. It is simply not good enough to quote figures about online claims to justify closure plans. Universal credit will place other, new demands on staff, who will, for example, have to assess whether self-employed people claiming universal credit have a viable business plan. What assessment has the Minister made of the increased demand placed on jobcentre staff as a result of the roll-out of universal credit?
Finally, the closures will have an impact on jobs within the DWP. Will the Minister outline the number of jobs that will be lost as a result of these closures, among frontline jobcentre staff and in the corporate centre sites as a result of the new “hub strategy” for the corporate centre? The Government must immediately pause these closures to allow proper scrutiny of their plans.
I shall begin with the hon. Lady’s first point about Jobcentre Plus staff. The reality is that in every nation and region there will be an increase in the number of jobcentre staff, from the beginning of the process to its end. Job numbers are going up, particularly as we roll out universal credit. She talks about 750 job losses, but only a small minority of them are likely to be redundancies among frontline jobcentre staff. She asked how many; we are probably looking at a range of 80 to 100 or so—I do not want to be too precise about that, but that is the maximum we are looking at, and we hope to be able to bring it down.
The fact is that the reforms take account of the changes in the welfare system resulting from the rolling out of the universal credit full service. It is absolutely right that we make use of the fact that it is the end of a contract and take the opportunity to find savings. We are talking about taxpayers’ money. We can find savings in the DWP’s estate and, at the same time, provide modern, up-to-date jobcentres that provide the service that is needed. That is the right thing to do. I am disappointed that the Labour party is going to stand against the careful and sensible use of public money, which is exactly what the Government are delivering.
In these difficult times, will my right hon. Friend praise Harlow jobcentre, which does a huge amount not only to support my jobs fairs but to encourage apprenticeships? Will he ensure that jobcentres throughout the country do everything possible to employ apprentices and to encourage employers themselves to have apprenticeships?
Compassionate conservativism lasted fully two days. There should have been an oral statement and a vote in the House on this issue. Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a direct link between the index of multiple deprivation and those jobcentres earmarked for closure? Will he publish an equality impact assessment, particularly on the effects on those with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities? What engagement has there been with the devolved Administrations throughout the UK? What will be the effect of the roll- out of universal credit, given that some of the jobcentres earmarked for closure were included in the statement on the roll-out published by the Department?
I make the point to the hon. Gentleman that when it comes to jobcentres—this was touched on by the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) in her remarks about Glasgow—after these reforms have been completed there will be a reduction in the number of jobcentres there, but Glasgow will still have more jobcentres per head of population than any other city in the United Kingdom. Also, a number of the Glasgow jobcentres were particularly under-utilised. It is sensible that we rationalise the estate and can deliver modern services. In some cases, we need much improved jobcentres, with improved facilities and greater capability to do more things. That is exactly what the strategy involves.
On the equality impact assessment, the Government have, as always, fulfilled their obligations in terms of the assessment they have made. I make the point again: I hope that the Scottish National party is not going to stand against the sensible use of Government estates to deliver public services in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
Rationalising the use of the DWP’s property assets has to be a good thing, for the reasons that the Secretary of State has outlined. That is also true in city constituencies like mine where there is no danger of the JCP closing, but an opportunity perhaps to co-locate it alongside other services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the more serious issue ahead is making sure that we have the right resources in the JCPs for the expanded roll-out of universal credit that is starting early next year?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. That is exactly right. It is very important that we have jobcentres that are able to deal with the new and important role of providing the support that claimants need. I am talking about having the work coaches and the facilities in place. In some cases, that requires new, improved estates, and we should not be stuck just on the footprint that we happened to have a few years ago, particularly as there is now an opportunity to make those changes, given that the contract is coming to an end.
Annesley DWP office has 130 workers, three quarters of whom are women. The close proximity of the office to their home enables many of those women to have a career and be a parent. There are no nearby offices to relocate them to, so I ask the Minister to pause the closure and conduct and publish an equality impact assessment in this special case.
It is the case that there are sites in Chesterfield and Mansfield, which are within half an hour by car from the site that the hon. Lady mentions. It is anticipated that at least 75% of the staff—probably more—can be redeployed to other sites and will not be in a position in which redundancy is relevant, and of course the DWP is seeking to ensure that that number can be maximised.
Sutton is a pilot for universal credit. I support the principle of universal credit, but the difficulty is that it is extremely complex and is leaving some people completely unable to plan their expenditure. When universal credit is rolled out more widely, how will the Minister ensure that those who cannot register their claims online, or, indeed, those who feel that they have to go to the jobcentre because they cannot rely on the post delivering certain items, are not severely disadvantaged?
As I have said, 99% register for universal credit online. Also, those who are seeking work are expected to spend up to 35 hours a week searching for work, and that includes the time taken to get to jobcentres, for example. In very particular cases, if there are those who are not able to make it to jobcentres, other arrangements can be made.
The Secretary of State is aware that I am unhappy about the closure of Shipley jobcentre. I have many questions for him that you would not allow me to go through now, Mr Speaker. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will meet me so that I can go through some of them with him. Just for now, will he confirm that some of that outreach work will continue to be delivered within the Shipley constituency, and will he also guarantee that the staff there can choose which other office to work at, which may be much closer to their home, so that they do not all have to move to Bradford?
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that outreach work will continue in Shipley. Not just in Shipley but more generally, DWP will look to work with staff as much as possible to accommodate their preferences. I know that my hon. Friend has already met the Minister for Employment to discuss this matter, but I dare say that he and I will have further conversations on this point in the near future. Given previous experience, we will probably have many such conversations.
The Government seem obsessed with the spreadsheet economy to the detriment of our communities, which must suffer the consequences of austerity. The National Assembly for Wales does not have control over our own employment services, meaning that we too are quite vulnerable to the closure of jobcentres and the loss of hundreds of jobs. I urge the Secretary of State to reverse these planned closures, and ask him whether he would consider devolving Jobcentre Plus functions to Wales.
Let us be clear about the employment record over the past seven years. We have nearly 3 million people in work, youth unemployment has fallen by 375,000, the employment rate is at a record high and unemployment is at the lowest level since 1975. Some of the credit has to go to what jobcentres are delivering and the policies that the Government have pursued—those things have assisted. It is right that we continue to seek good value for money for the taxpayer, and I do not foresee any move towards further devolution in this area.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are steps that we take to assist more vulnerable claimants, such as being able to make visits, where necessary, in particular circumstances. That will continue, but it is absolutely right that we require those who are able to visit a jobcentre to do so.
Is the Secretary of State aware that when we embarked on finding jobs when the pits shut in the Derbyshire and Bolsover area, we set up Markham Vale straight off the M1 and created several hundred jobs in the process? That has not yet finished with the local authorities concerned. The Bolsover jobcentre played a significant part in ensuring that those 700 jobs were available, and, as a result, needs to continue. We are enlarging the site to provide several hundred more jobs. Surely it is not appropriate to shut the Bolsover jobcentre that has played a magnificent part in providing work for the miners and families of miners who lost their jobs. Surely he should reverse this.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the work that has been done to help those who were working miners. I think I am fairly confident in saying that employment numbers and unemployment numbers have moved in the right direction in his constituency over the past seven years, which may reflect the changing political nature of his constituency. The staff at the Bolsover site are moving to Staveley. Jobcentres do have a valuable role to play, as I have outlined, but it is right that we should have modern facilities and that is what these plans involve delivering.
Obviously, we are having this debate in the context of record employment. On both sides of the House, we should be welcoming the fact that fewer people are unemployed now than ever before. That has brought with it enormous social benefits—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) is patient for a moment, she will hear the question. In Wirral West, for example—
Order. I am sorry, but I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman needs to ask a question not in a moment or two but straight away, because many other colleagues are waiting to contribute. The hon. Gentleman is new, and he must get used to it. I want him to get to his question.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is the right point, and the support that people need can often be better provided in well-equipped, modern—sometimes larger—jobcentres than by using the estate that may have served us well 10 or 15 years ago but is now out of date.
Sheffield’s Eastern Avenue jobcentre is rooted in the community that it serves. Its staff therefore understand local people and can do the job, better supporting them because of that. The Secretary of State talks about a much improved service, but does he not recognise that centralising the service, breaking that link with the local community, will damage the work that the jobcentre can do? Will he think again?
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Sheffield Eastern Avenue centre closing, let me reassure him that outreach will be put in place in the local community, so there will continue to be a service in his area. The number of jobcentres in Sheffield is being reduced from seven to six, but in the context of that city that is the right move so that we have got six properly functioning, fully utilised centres rather than more.
May I say to my right hon. Friend that when the Labour Government closed down the Christchurch jobcentre the sky did not fall in. Would it not be sensible now, with fewer jobcentres, to ensure that they are open at weekends so that they are more accessible?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Other Governments have also changed the estate system for jobcentres, and I do not think that was by any means disastrous. His point about opening at weekends is interesting. We would have the facility to do that, and we will keep it under review, considering value for money and so on. If there was a good case for that, it is certainly something we could do.
Having conducted a survey outside Batley jobcentre, I know that the majority of users walk there—often every day—to use the computers to look for jobs. With Batley’s closing, they will have to walk to Dewsbury, a journey of 20 minutes—if they are able-bodied. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether new sanctioning guidance will be provided for those who are late or miss appointments?
We do not expect people to miss appointments. As I said earlier, people looking for jobs are expected to spend 35 hours a week doing so, which should enable them to travel from Batley to Dewsbury in the time available. We would expect people to make appointments, but we would look at the individual circumstances if somebody has missed an appointment, to take into account whether there might be any mitigating factors.
My hon. Friend is right—it is outcomes that matter. In some circumstances co-location in itself may have benefits and in others having a jobcentre that is modern, properly designed and of sufficient scale to provide a range of services to claimants helps to improve outcomes. It is improved outcomes that we want.
Evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee from the Public and Commercial Services Union suggested that jobcentre closures were likely to lead to increased numbers of people being late for appointments and therefore being sanctioned, and the director of Poverty Alliance argued that the Government should therefore reconsider sanctions for lateness. Will the Minister now confirm that he is committed to doing so?
Let us put this in context: 97% of JSA claimants are not sanctioned every month. Given the number of hours we expect people to spend looking for work, I think travelling to a jobcentre, just as people travel to work, is the way life operates for most people. If there are particular circumstances that result in someone being late for an assessment or meeting, they can be taken into account.
Does the Minister not realise that jobcentres are always needed under a Labour Government, whereas under this Government, with unemployment falling and 2.9 million more people in work, we should be spending money on getting more people into work and not on empty office space?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. One could be drawn into a comparison of the records on employment of Governments of different sorts. I am proud of this Government’s record. We have an important role in supporting people in getting into work, staying in work and improving their position. I would prefer to spend the resources we have on doing that as efficiently and effectively as possible, and we would not be doing that if we were wasting £140 million a year on an estate that is no longer fit for purpose.
I appreciate that the DWP makes considerable savings from the closure of jobcentres, including the one in Pyle in my constituency, but it is passing on a huge cost to those who will have to fund out of their benefits the costs of travelling by bus to their new jobcentre. According to the Minister, it takes 39 minutes to get from Pyle to Porthcawl, but it is clear that he has never tried to make that journey on a bus. Will he undertake to ensure that no one travelling from Pyle to Porthcawl is sanctioned because of a bus service that is not regular?
Those who have been out of work for 13 weeks or more have access to a jobcentre discount card, which reduces their travel costs by half. A lot of people in their daily lives have to travel distances and be somewhere on time. We expect people to spend 35 hours a week searching for work, and that can include allowing good time to travel from home to a jobcentre. I think that is perfectly reasonable, but I repeat that if there are particular circumstances that result in someone missing an appointment, there is discretion regarding sanctions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that
“the purpose of the estates review is to make sure that the estate is effective and reflects demands on the…service”?
Those are not my words but those of the Scottish National party Government Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, in relation to Police Scotland. They show that the SNP argue for rationalising the public services estate when it suits them.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Governments have to ensure that public money is spent sensibly, and one of the ways of doing that is by rationalising the estate. Keeping open under-utilised jobcentres is simply not a good use of taxpayers’ money, and it does not do claimants any good either.
The Scottish Affairs Committee published a report at the end of the previous Parliament that was hugely critical of the Government’s approach to jobcentre closures, particularly in Glasgow, where some claimants are having to take three buses to reach other jobcentres, at huge expense. The Secretary of State has said three times this morning that he will not review the sanctions regime for people who are late for appointments. Will he look at that with the compassion that I know he has, he having been a good Minister in the previous Parliament, to see whether anything can be done to ensure that people are not put into significant deprivation as a result of these sanctions?
I make the point to the hon. Gentleman that there are many more appointments for which claimants are late than there are sanctions. It is simply not the case that being late automatically means a sanction; a judgment is made. I think we also have to recognise that many people in work have to catch three buses to get to work and are expected to be there on time, so I do not think it is unreasonable to expect people to travel to a jobcentre if they are able to do so. Glasgow continues to be the most generously provided for, in terms of the number of jobcentres, of any city in the United Kingdom.
Bearing the burden of the poverty of our constituents.
In Aberdeen, Greyfriars House will close and staff will move to the front-facing jobcentre at Ebury House. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that the level and quality of service and support they receive will not diminish following the decision, and what improvements can they expect to see in the level of service?
The reality is that services will improve. I strongly believe that universal credit, in particular, will result in an improved welfare system, and we are increasing the number of work coaches. Every region and nation in the United Kingdom will see an increase in the number of frontline staff providing services, and Scotland is no exception. I have visited jobcentres to see the sort of work that is now happening, and I am encouraged by the improved services and the collaborative and effective way in which jobcentre staff are working with claimants to help them get jobs and improve their circumstances.
Norris Green jobcentre serves some of the most deprived neighbourhoods of Liverpool. Will the Secretary of State meet my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and me to discuss the plans to close the jobcentre and explore alternatives, including co-location with local authority services?
There has been a 70% reduction in the number of jobseekers and unemployed people in my constituency since 2010. One of the best ways to reach vulnerable claimants who have not managed to get into work is outreach based at local colleges, where educational support could be tailored at the same time. Can the Secretary of State confirm that innovation is at the heart of these changes?
The DWP is proposing to relocate the service centre out of Newport to some location north of Cardiff, but the exact location is unclear. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and I clearly want to keep those jobs, the expertise and the services. The centre provides 249 jobs right in the heart of our city. Will the Minister meet us, so that we can put the case in person?
My constituents in Broxburn are facing the closure of the DWP office. They faced the closure of Hall’s of Broxburn just a few years ago, losing 1,200 jobs. Like the constituents of other hon. Members, they are very reliant on the service, and the Government’s Google Maps approach does not reflect the true amount of travel they will have to undertake. Will the Secretary of State review the decision and undertake to carry out a full review of the vulnerable areas that are reliant on the vital services provided by these centres?
Does the Secretary of State accept that requiring some sick and disabled people to travel further to attend compulsory interviews is likely to lead to more cost, hardship and worry for our most vulnerable constituents who are looking for jobs? What will he do to ensure that his plans do not leave these vulnerable people to be hit the hardest?
Let me be clear. We do not expect claimants of employment and support allowance to attend jobcentres regularly. We are not looking to reduce the number of health assessment centres. This is very much focused on jobseekers, but we must also ensure that we rationalise the estate and use our resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.
The closure of local services will have a hugely negative impact on the local economy in towns such as Merthyr Tydfil. It will also have an impact on the quality of life of employees with caring responsibilities, who will have to travel longer distances. What consultations and impact assessments have been carried out with staff, customers and trade unions? Will the Department change direction if the consultation does not support the planned closures?
These are not reforms; they are cuts. Closing Bridgeton jobcentre is a cut in support for the people who need it the most. As I see in my surgeries, these people are already getting hit and being sanctioned by this Government. People having to travel from Bridgeton jobcentre to Shettleston jobcentre will have to take two buses and use money from their income. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that not one person will end up being sanctioned for being late because of that?
The jobcentre in Deptford closed in November 2010. Now the jobcentre in Lewisham will close. Young people from New Cross and Deptford will now need to travel to Peckham for support with finding employment. With youth violence on the rise, how will the Government ensure that our young people travelling to Peckham are kept safe?
More than 300 jobs will move from the Lonend site in Paisley to Glasgow, and this follows hundreds of job losses and transfers at Doosan Babcock and Chivas Brothers. This is the very last thing the Renfrewshire economy needs. Will the Secretary of State assure me that there will be zero redundancies as a result of this move?
Knowing me as you do, Mr Speaker, you will know that I have no ambition to be churlish on this matter, so I will say to the Secretary of State that I am grateful to see that Castlemilk jobcentre has been removed from his proposed closure plan. However, there is more than a hint of disappointment that Langside jobcentre remains on the list, as it serves the second most densely populated council population in Scotland, and there is a clear need for it to be there. Let me ask a very specific question: is there an equality impact assessment, and will he publish it?
The original jobcentres inquiry clearly did not respond to West Dunbartonshire Council’s offer of shared premises—it was just about assets. The closure of Alexandria jobcentre creates the situation in West Dunbartonshire whereby not only Jobcentre Plus staff but DWP staff administering benefits now feel as though they are under threat. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to my constituents and those working at the DWP in Clydebank and at Jobcentre Plus in Clydebank and Dumbarton that they will not be moved from my constituency?
On co-location, let me be clear that we are happy to work with other authorities, but signing on does have to take place on jobcentre premises. In terms of guarantees and so on, any Government Department has to look sensibly at its estate to ensure that it is deployed efficiently. As I say, we are in an environment where we are in fact increasing frontline staff, not reducing them.
Given that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation used Glasgow as its study centre in its report on disconnected communities, and suggested very strongly that a well-distributed employment support network is vital, how have the cuts now being applied to Glasgow been objectively, evidentially based?
I have porridge for my breakfast, Mr Speaker, with just a little bit of salt in it, like my granny taught me.
The Secretary of State said that people will not be sanctioned if they make reasonable efforts. Who will judge what is a reasonable effort? Constituents of mine in Maryhill now face a six-mile round trip, with all the expensive bus routes and potential delays that that entails. He keeps saying that Glasgow has far more jobcentres per head of population. What does that mean for the remaining jobcentres in Glasgow? Will he guarantee that Springburn jobcentre will not close? Will he meet his Scottish Government counterparts before any further decisions are taken?
We have settled the estate now, and we do not have any immediate plans to revisit this. In terms of the sanctions process, a comprehensive system of appeals is available. As I say, there are far more missed or late appointments than there are sanctions, and I would expect that to continue to be the case.
Yesterday’s statement about the closure of Easterhouse and Parkhead jobcentres is another body blow to the east end from this callous Tory Government. Written parliamentary questions that I have lodged have shown that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have never bothered to visit jobcentres in Glasgow. Will the Secretary of State come to Glasgow and do the bus journeys from Gartloch to Shettleston to see how idiotic these plans are?
I think that the hon. Gentleman might want to have a word with the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on the subject of churlishness. The fact is that Glasgow, as I keep saying, has more jobcentres per head of population than any large city in the whole of the United Kingdom, and that will continue to be the case. I have to say that if the Scottish Government took the approach of SNP Members in this House with regard to good use of taxpayers’ money, then they would be in even bigger trouble than they appear to be.