Public Services > Central Government

DWP announces jobcentre mergers and council co-location plans

Neil Merrett Published 05 July 2017

PCS union claims almost one tenth of sites will be closed as department looks to curb estate spending due to increased online use of services such as Universal Credit

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to restructure its network of jobcentres by merging existing sites with larger buildings or local government premises to reflect the impacts of an increasing amount of online applications for key services such as Universal Credit.

In a strategy claimed to cut £140m from its budget annually over the next decade, the department claims that 69 jobcentres will be merged with other properties or “underused” nearby sites as an example of the growing reliance on online service provision.

 “The plans reflect the fact that eight out of ten claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99% of applications for Universal Credit full service claims are now made online. This means that DWP buildings are used much less with 20% of the estate currently underutilised,” said the DWP in a statement.

Unions have raised significant concerns over the basis for and research behind the DWP’s decision, which it is claimed will serve to reduce the existing number of jobcentres in the UK by almost 10%.

With jobcentre sites presently covered under longstanding Public Finance Initiative (PFI) agreements, DWP has argued that the welfare system has undergone widescale reform in the intervening 20 years.

One example of this is Universal Credit, which is intended to merge employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, and housing benefit into a single payment.

However, the delayed Universal Credit benefits reforms are already several years behind schedule, and not likely to be fully implemented and supported via a new digital service until at least around 2021.

With these changes ongoing, the DWP aims to have four existing jobcentres moved to new sites that are described as being “better” premises, while 40 buildings will now be co-located with local authority or other community service sites.

The plan will also see the closing of 26 processing sites as the DWP seeks to implement a number of larger corporate and back office buildings.  This will include inaugurating a new corporate site and five large service centres.  

The DWP also expects the re-organisation of seven regional corporate hubs as part of an ongoing overhaul of its operations in recent years.

According to the department, an estimated 750 redundancies are expected to result from the changes, amounting to about 1% of its current staff levels.

The DWP has argued that the majority of remaining staff will stay in their existing offices, with alternative jobs considered “wherever possible” if a new site is not relocated close by.

“This programme is about reducing under-used space, not reducing staff numbers. The figures take account of 13 sites which are currently still under commercial negotiations and for which we are unable to announce at this point,” said the department.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has hit out at the decision to close what it claims is one in ten job centres presently in operation.

“The Department for Work and Pensions has announced just six of the original 78 jobcentres earmarked for closure will remain open, and only 11 of the 80 planned to co-locate with local authorities have been given a reprieve – and in most cases because of a lack of space in council buildings,” said the union in a statement.

PCS expressed concern that two sites originally planned to remain open in previous overhauls unveiled earlier this year were now being closed under the restructure , calling for the DWP to now publish its analysis on each centre expected to shut.

While two back office sites were now being retained, the union warned over the possibility of staff from corporate centre closures being unable to relocate to take up their roles.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union would continue to oppose plans, with a strike now planned later this month by staff at Sheffield’s Eastern Avenue jobcentre following similar industrial action.

 “While we are pleased a handful of threatened sites will now stay open, thanks to the hard work of our members, community groups and local MPs, it is utterly disgraceful that DWP is pressing ahead with these closures,” he argued.

Related articles:

DWP seeks multiple roles to support Universal Credit data needs

PAC urges DWP to explain policy changes impacting Universal Credit rollout

Universal Credit service centre staff to strike next week








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