The Department for Work and Pensions will soon close 20 temporary jobcentres it has opened since the beginning of the Covid pandemic to support the government’s push to get more people into work.
The 20 branches, which opened between April 2021 and April 2022, are all set to close by the end of March.
Staff working at the affected branches will transfer to nearby jobcentres and no departmental staff will be made redundant. Announcing the closures in a statement yesterday, social mobility minister Mims Davies said there will be "no reduction in the number of work coaches serving customers as a result of these changes".
The closures are separate to the plans to shut more than 40 of the department’s offices, which has led to nearly 700 redundancies so far.
In a statement, a DWP spokesperson said the department is cutting down on space “acquired during the pandemic to accommodate social distancing”.
However, all but seven of the affected sites opened after social-distancing guidelines ended in England in July 2021, and seven opened last year.
Previous announcements about the opening of the sites does not mention social distancing, instead referencing additional support put in place to meet a surge in demand after people lost jobs following the onset of Covid.
Davies announced the locations of 80 sites in March 2021, saying they had been procured "in direct response to the pressures the pandemic has placed on the labour market".
A list on GOV.UK of 194 temporary jobcentres says they were set up to support the government’s Plan for Jobs, which was announced in July 2020 to protect, support and create jobs and included the pledge to double the number of work coaches.
A September 2021 progress update on plan said work was ongoing to open 200 extra jobcentres, “reflecting the increase in work coaches”.
DWP is now taking a "phased approach towards decommissioning these temporary jobcentres", Davies said this week.
"This will minimise any impact on service delivery and optimise opportunities, where appropriate, to gain better buildings and work environments for all."
Further tranches of sites will be closed this and next year "as we continue to review the extra capacity across all sites and assess when exiting might be appropriate", she added.
Some sites will be kept on and existing jobcentres will move into the buildings as they offer "better, more suitable accommodation than our existing offices", while others will close altogether.
In some cases, the extra capacity allowed for social-distancing measures, which have since been removed.
Closures 'undermine rhetoric on jobs'
The GMB union has said the closures will "undermine government rhetoric about growing the labour force".
Although DWP has said work coaches will not be made redundant, the closures will affect contractors represented by the union.
"Closures will undoubtedly impact on services and represent a screeching U-turn on the original programme to extend the reach of DWP into communities," GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn said.
“GMB members, who work as security at these sites, will have their jobs and futures put at risk.
"This plan makes no sense when the government is touting warm words on growth and employment.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We no longer need the temporary space we acquired during the pandemic to accommodate social distancing. To continue providing our essential employment support and other services in a way that is cost efficient for the taxpayer, we are phasing out these temporarily leased sites and staff and all customer services will return to the nearby established jobcentre.
“The closing of these temporary sites will not reduce our levels of service, or access to face-to-face appointments. Customers will return to being served by their established jobcentre and there will be no reduction in the number of work coaches serving customers as a result.”
The temporary jobcentres will close by the end of March:
- Aylesbury, High Street – opened 23 March 2022
- Bath, Pinesgate – opened 17 November 2021
- Blyth, Percy Street – opened 17 November 2021
- Burnley, Charter Walk Shopping Centre – opened 09 June 2021
- Dundee, West Marketgait – opened 19 April 2022
- Gateshead, Metro Centre – opened 14 April 2021
- Halifax, Broad Street Plaza – opened 09 June 2021
- Inverness, Glendoe Terrace – opened 09 February 2022
- Ipswich, St Vincent House – opened 30 June 2021
- Kettering, High Street – opened 6 April 2022
- Leeds, Kirkstall Burley – opened 16 June 2021
- Lincoln, Brayford Wharf East – opened 20 October 2021
- London Hackney – opened 08 September 2021
- London Kentish Town – opened 13 October 2021
- London Sutton Carew – opened 12 May 2021
- London Tooting – opened 28 March 2022
- Stevenage, Gunnels Wood Road – opened 06 October 2021
- Sunderland, Tavistock Place – opened 1 April 2022
- Swindon, Canal Walk – opened 19 August 2021
- Wigan, Mesnes Street – opened 14 January 2022