The Department for Work and Pensions has named more than 130 Jobcentre and back-office sites earmarked for closure as part of its estates-rationalisation programme.
The centres come in addition to 43 previously-announced site “divestments” as part of a programme designed to save around £180m a year over the next decade.
DWP said 78 of the Jobcentres earmarked for closure would be effectively merged with neighbouring larger centres, while new Jobcentres would be opened at 50 new sites, often co-located with local authority services.
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The latest figures also include 27 back-office sites set to be closed and replaced with five larger service centres to handle processing.
DWP said research indicated that around one-fifth of its current 1.5m sq metre estate was under-utilised, and the rationalisation programme was timed to maximise the benefits of renegotiating the tenancies of the 900 buildings it leased.
The majority of those buildings are covered by the department’s PRIME contract, which runs until April 2018.
The PCS union, which represents 50,000 of the DWP’s 80,000 staff, said the proposals would put thousands of jobs at risk and meant unemployed people would have to travel further to access vital help.
It added that “at least 18” of the threatened Jobcentres appeared to breach a previous commitment that no site would close if it would take 20 minutes or more to reach the next nearest centre by public transport.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the proposals were not only unfair but undermined support to get unemployed people back to work.
“We are opposed to these closures and will vigorously fight any attempt to force DWP workers out of their jobs,” he said.
Employment minister Damian Hinds said employment rates were at a record high and the welfare system had undergone significant changes in the two decades since DWPs current estates contracts had been agreed.
“As more people access their benefits through the internet, many of our buildings are under-used. We are concentrating our resources on what we know best helps people into work,” he said.
“We will always make sure that people have the support they need to get into and progress within work, that’s why we are recruiting 2,500 more work coaches to help those who need it most.”
DWP said the office closures would be made in consultation with staff, the “vast majority” of whom would have the option to relocate or be offered alternative roles.
A total of 134 new DWP sites were marked as “divest” in the department’s latest list, in addition to the 43 previously-announced sites. Thirty of the total sites earmarked for disposal are in London.
DWP listed nine sites across England, Wales and Scotland where acquisitions had been made, in all but one case for new Jobcentres.
A further 18 sites that DWP currently occupies were listed as being subject to ongoing lease negotiations.