The closure dates for more than 100 jobcentres across the UK have been announced by the Department for Work and Pensions as part of its major estates rationalisation plan.
Fifteen jobcentres have been shut so far in 2018, with a further 46 offices earmarked for closure by the end of the year – most of them by May, by which time the department’s current buildings management contract will have ended.
The first five centres were closed last August, following DWP research which found that a fifth of its estate was “underutilised and could be vacated”, leading it to draw up a programme that aims to save £180m annually over 10 years. In total in 2017, 40 jobcentres were shut.
The programme initially included proposals to merge 78 smaller jobcentres with larger ones nearby, co-locate 50 with local authorities or other community services, and close 27 back offices and replace them with five large service centres to handle processing. The department said it planned to retain more than 700 of its 900 existing offices, which were leased with a range of landlords.
The latest update from DWP shows that the majority of the 101 office closures announced so far are part of a merger with larger jobcentres, but 35 of those listed as closed or closing are being relocated with a local authority.
Yesterday the department announced that centres in Goldthorpe, Dagenham, Newton Abbot, Highgate, Lewisham, Southall, Wellington, Blackpool South and Kingston have now been closed, as well as three centres in Glasgow - in Springburn, Langside, and Bridgeton.
The impact of the office closures in Scotland was discussed during a House of Commons debate yesterday. The government had planned to close eight of the 16 jobcentres in Glasgow, but one centre, Castlemilk, was saved following pressure from local campaigners.
SNP MP Stewart Malcolm McDonald said yesterday that “no effective transport study was carried out” by DWP officials in Glasgow, despite concerns repeatedly being raised with senior managers in the department.
MPs also raised concerns yesterday about staff safety as the government trumpets more flexible working and outreach in communities, and the extra travel costs that jobcentre staff will have to pick up as they are redeployed to other offices – amid the pay restraint that has meant staff haven’t had a pay rise of above 1% since 2010.
The Public and Commercial Services trade union has organised strike action across the UK in opposition to the closures, notably at the Sheffield Eastern Avenue branch which the union said was in a deprived part of the city and should not be relocated. That branch was closed in November 2017.
PCS also raised concerns that DWP had admitted that offers of redeployment to staff would not necessarily be “within the mobility of all of the staff affected”.
DWP said when it unveiled the programme that the office closures would be made in consultation with staff, the majority of whom would be offered the chance to relocate or take on an alternative role. But last July the department announced that 750 people could expect to lose their jobs as a result of the reorganisation.
The department also said last year that it planned to hire 2,500 new work coaches to support jobseekers.
Damian Hinds, the newly appointed secretary of state for education but minister for employment until last month, said the closures were necessary due to a shift online of benefits applications and advice.
“We will always make sure that people have the support they need to get into and progress within work. These changes reflect the fact that more people access their benefits online resulting in many of our buildings being underused.
“The changes DWP is making to its estate across the country will offer a more efficient service, and deliver good value for the taxpayer.”