The Department for Work and Pensions has updated its plans to close around 78 Jobcentres and corporate sites, with additional customer-facing operations and three back-office facilities set to shut.
In a progress report on proposals to cut back its estate by one-fifth, the department said around 750 jobs were now expected to go under the reorganisation, which is estimated to save around £140m over the next 10 years.
A statement to parliament from employment minister Damian Hinds said that the majority of Jobcentre and back-office closure proposals announced earlier this year would go ahead from the end of March 2018, when DWP’s PFI estates contract with Telereal Trillium comes to an end.
While DWP has reversed some closure proposals, it has identified one new Jobcentre – Bishop Auckland – to shut, and said medical assessment centres in Huddersfield and Newtown, in mid-Wales, will now close – despite initially being earmarked for retention.
DWP’s Cobalt House back office and corporate centre in Newcastle will also close, under proposals announced yesterday, in another change from the original plans.
In his statement, Hinds said the department had been unable to announce proposals for some offices earlier in the year because negotiations with landlords had not been concluded.
“We are now in a position to provide an update on proposals for these offices,” he said.
“For the vast majority of DWP offices there will be no change in location. Where we are closing a site, we will take all possible precautions to minimise disruption for customers. Vulnerable people will continue to receive home visits and postal claims where it is appropriate to do so.”
Hinds said the plans reflected the fact that eight out of 10 claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99% of applications for the “full service” version of Universal Credit were now made online, meaning that DWP buildings were used much less.
His announcement also identified 13 DWP sites where negotiations were still ongoing with landlords. Around half of the list covered sites in the West Midlands, however it also included the National Insurance Number Centre in Walthamstow, north-east London.
The DWP said the anticipated 750 redundancies from the programme equated to fewer than 1% of its total workforce, and were expected to be mainly covered by its voluntary redundancy scheme.
Union PCS said it was “highly likely” that compulsory redundancies would be required to deliver the headcount cuts of the magnitude DWP had indicated, and that staff working in the back-office and corporate centre functions earmarked to shut would be most vulnerable because of the difficulty of relocating to new bases.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said the union would continue to oppose the plans in every way it could as the plan was making it harder for people to access the services they needed.
“While we are pleased a handful of threatened sites will now stay open, thanks to the hard work of our members, community groups and local MPs, it is utterly disgraceful that DWP is pressing ahead with these closures,” he said.
The union added that it appeared some of the anticipated deals where DWP had been planning to co-locate services within local authority buildings had fallen through because of a lack of space at those premises.
DWP said the announcement meant it would be pushing ahead with 40 co-located Jobcentres, while a new corporate site and five new large service centres across the country would open in a phased approach starting next year.
PCS members at Sheffield’s Eastern Avenue Jobcentre are set to stage a second week of strike action later this month, following initial action last month, over the proposed closure of their office.