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House of Commons Hansard
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11 November 2009
Volume 499
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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which Jobcentre Plus offices closed in each of the last six years are under consideration for reopening; and if she will make a statement. [294034]

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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 question asking which Jobcentre Plus offices closed in each of the last six years are under consideration for reopening. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

I have provided this information at Annex A.

Since April 2002, when Jobcentre Plus was created by the merger of the former Employment Service and Benefits Agency, Jobcentre Plus has continued to refocus and transform the way it delivers its services. These transformation programmes have improved the quality and breadth of customer service, as well as the environment in which it is delivered. Customers no longer have to go to two separate offices—often on the same High Street—to receive help with both benefits and jobsearch. This has allowed us to rationalise 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.

Our approach to closure of a customer-facing Jobcentre is one that takes into account a range of issues, for example, the impact closure may have on customer service, and whether the work and staff can be relocated. When we are looking to withdraw our services from a location we are committed to full consultation with our customers, partner organisations, Trade Unions, staff, and local Members of Parliament.

The great majority of our services (in common with most large, modern organisations) are now 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. However, Jobcentres continue to provide an essential service—especially to those customers most in need of tailored help.

In addition to our network of modernised Jobcentres, we aim to make our services accessible to customers by providing a range of support through outreach, often delivering advisory and other support on Partner's premises. That is particularly important in locations where maintaining a Jobcentre could not be justified. Typically, such services can be delivered in partnership with Children’s Centres, or on Local Authority premises, or in conjunction with one of our Welfare to Work Providers.

Jobcentre Plus Customer Service Directors have reviewed their existing service delivery arrangements in meeting the challenge of the current economic climate, taking into account the planned welfare reform changes for the next two to three years. This review took into account the latest known information on the expected increase in business and customer volumes. This exercise has identified that some Jobcentre Plus offices currently face capacity pressures. These pressures will be met through a range of solutions.

We have embarked on a programme of converting or extending our existing buildings where necessary, and widening our network of outreach facilities to make our services more accessible to customers. We are supplementing these measures by operating extended opening hours in some locations where the need for this is identified locally. This includes some offices opening to the public on Saturday.

This programme is primarily focused on those buildings where we provide a face to face service for members of the public, but we are also implementing solutions across our network of Benefit Delivery Centres and Contact Centres to ensure they are equipped to meet any capacity challenge.

The vast majority of sites affected have sufficient internal space which could be made available to enable capacity increases. The work to be carried out is of a temporary nature to ensure Jobcentre Plus has the flexibility to review the estate requirement in future.

We only acquire new temporary space where all other measures are insufficient and Jobcentre Plus presence in these buildings will be clearly badged as temporary facilities. The sites listed in Annex A are being considered for temporary reoccupation because no suitable alternatives exist.

Annex A: Jobcentre Plus offices previously open to the public and under consideration for temporary reoccupation

Region

Location

London

Broadway, Bexleyheath

North West

Great Moor Street, Bolton

Scotland

Somervell Street, Cambuslang

West Midlands

Erdington, Birmingham

West Midlands

Bristol Road, South Northfield, Birmingham

West Midlands

Sheriff’s Court, Coventry