The Department for Work and Pensions’ plans to shut more than 40 back-office sites are “not about headcount reduction” and other departments are “madly keen” to offer jobs to staff who cannot relocate, a minister has insisted.
DWP minister Mims Davies told MPs yesterday that voluntary redundancy for staff affected by the closure of 43 sites was “the absolute last resort”. However she acknowledged that at least 1,100 staff whose jobs are earmarked for relocation had indicated that they could not move.
Davies told a parliamentary debate on the office closures programme that the point of the exercise was to reduce underoccupied space and move staff to larger, more modern accommodation with the capacity host around 300-500 staff at each site.
She said that since the latest part of DWP’s estate plans were floated in March, around 5,800 conversations with affected staff at 29 of the 43 sites earmarked for closure had taken place.
“Pleasingly, following those conversations, more than 80% of colleagues have confirmed that they can move to a new site,” she said.
“Voluntary redundancy is the absolute last resort. All our efforts are to retain, retrain and redeploy both within the DWP and in all other government departments. We will continue to do that until all avenues have been exhausted.
“We are currently working with 15 other government departments, which are madly keen on having those people with DWP operational experience join them.”
Glasgow South MP Chris Stephens, who called the office-closures debate, said the plan was “seriously out-of-date” and that opportunities for redeployment were reduced since the government said it wants to cut the size of the civil service by 20% – or 91,000 jobs – last month.
Stephens said many of the affected processing jobs were based in buildings that DWP expected to maintain a presence in, meaning that existing buildings would become even less well-used. He added that some staff who could not travel to new locations would have to be replaced.
“If these closures and job cuts are allowed to go ahead, we will face the absurd prospect of staff being made redundant in one area while new staff are recruited in another to do the same job,” he said. “That would be both costly and inefficient.”
Stephens added that 29 of the affected sites were in constituencies with higher-than-average claimant rates and 33 of the English offices were in the 100 most-deprived constituencies in England. “I do not call that levelling up,” he said.
Davies acknowledged that last month’s announcement of the government’s intention to cut civil-service headcount by 20% “may have caused additional concern” among DWP staff looking for redeployment options.
“The DWP will consider its response to the challenge and will come forward with its proposals in due course,” she said.
Davies said staff eligible for voluntary redundancy as part of the closures programme would receive offers from September.