Department for Work and Pensions staff at a closure-threatened Jobcentre in Sheffield have stepped up a campaign of industrial action over the proposals and commenced a two-week strike.
The protest involving 50 PCS union members at the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre follows earlier one-week and single-day strikes in June and July. The closure is one of 78 announced by the DWP earlier this year as part of its estate-rationalisation programme aimed at saving £140m a year.
Under the Sheffield plans, Jobcentre users would be transferred to Sheffield Cavendish Court Jobcentre and Sheffield Bailey Court Jobcentre, which are 3 and 3.6 miles away respectively.
PCS said staff were striking to protect a vital public service covering one of the most deprived areas of the city, the closure of which would force claimants to travel much further to access the services they need to find work.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said many of the benefits claimants who used Eastern Avenue find it harder to access employment and training opportunities if the closure went ahead.
“We will continue to fight to save Jobcentres that provide a lifeline for unemployed, sick and disabled people. It is utterly disgraceful that this Tory government is abandoning our communities,” he said.
The campaign to keep Eastern Avenue Jobcentre open has the support of shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh.
A DWP update on the closure programme last month confirmed that 68 Jobcentres would merge, and a further 40 would move to co-located sites, shared with other public services. Other DWP regional offices will shut with services they provide relocated to up to seven hubs.
Employment minister Damian Hinds’ 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 estate rationalisation programme is timed to coincide with the end of DWP’s “PRIME” PFI estates contract with Telereal Trillium in March