More than 1,000 officials in the Department for Work and Pensions could lose their jobs, after the department announced dozens of office closures.
The PCS union has condemned government plans to close 42 Department of Work and Pensions offices, which it says puts up to 8,280 jobs at risk.
Work and pensions minister David Rutley announced the department’s intention to make large-scale office closures yesterday, after the union revealed the news ahead of a planned DWP announcement.
Around 28 back-of-house offices across the country will be relocated and some 12,000 employees will move to different sites, Rutley told the House of Commons. He said no Jobcentre Plus offices would be affected.
But he said there are around 1,300 civil servants who will not be able to move to other offices as there are no other suitable sites nearby and so could lose their jobs.
There are 13 sites which will have to close without an alternative site being offered, with 29 offices being relocated, according to PCS, one more than Rutley said.
PCS estimates around 1,188 jobs are threatened when the 13 sites close – slightly fewer than Rutley's calculation. A further 7,092 staff members are at risk of redundancy when the remaining 29 offices move, the union added.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government was quick to clap civil servants at the start of the pandemic; they’re even quicker to scrap them now they’ve declared the pandemic over.
“Our members have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, keeping the country running, paying out benefits to almost two and a half million families, helping them to put food on their table and keep a roof over their head.
“These are the workers rightly praised in 2020 by secretary of state for work and pensions Thérèse Coffey as ‘exceptional’ and in November last year by prime minister Boris Johnson as ‘miracle workers’.
“But now, as food and fuel prices rise faster than ever, they’re being abandoned by the government and left to fend for themselves.
“Their union will be there for them, fighting for their jobs. But if they need support from the state, who will provide it when they’re gone?”
In May 2020, Coffey said DWP staff were "hidden heroes for many people in this country”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph a month later, she praised civil servants for stepping up to the challenges of the Covid pandemic and said: "I know we can all rely on them to deliver as we rebuild and renew Britain."
“Thousands of my civil servants switched seamlessly from their day jobs to entirely unfamiliar roles in order to make this happen. Overwhelmingly, they did so without fuss, but with the same solemn sense of duty that led them into public service in the first place," she added.
PCS said the offices closing with no alternative site being offered are in: Aberdeen, Barrow in Furness, Bishop Auckland, Blackburn, Bury St Edmunds, Chippenham, Exeter, Gravesend, Kirkcaldy, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Southampton, and Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent.
PCS has provided a full list of the closures here and a map of the closures here. Closures are scheduled to happen by June 2023.
A government spokesperson said: “As part of plans to improve the services we deliver to claimants, help more people into employment and modernise public services, DWP is moving some back-office staff to better, greener offices, which will not affect any public-facing roles.
“This is not a plan to reduce our headcount – where possible, our colleagues in offices due to close are being offered opportunities to be redeployed to a nearby site or retrained into a new role in DWP or another government department. We are making every effort to fully support our staff through this process.”
The civil service headcount recently hit a 10-year high, but the government announced in its 2021 Spending Review it wanted to reduce non-frontline roles to 2019-20 levels and add more frontline roles. However, the government has not made clear how many frontline and non-frontline roles there are now and were then.
Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has since outlined his plans to shrink the civil service by removing more than 65,000 jobs – around one in seven civil servants at the latest count. The Cabinet Office has not provided any clarity on how both plans can happen simultaneously.