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I understand that E.ON has agreed that, following the consultation period, Jobcentre Plus advisers will be able to go to on-site surgeries for staff and open days and to get housing advice. In the meantime, an information leaflet for E.ON staff will be put together detailing the full range of support available from all providers. The rapid response service offers a wide range of services, including help with job searching and skills matching. As I have said, it will run dedicated advice surgeries for
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employees and give referrals to services provided by other local agencies. Crucially, it also acts as a gateway to training and reskilling, assessing an individual's needs and matching them with the training and funding opportunities available.

That support from Jobcentre Plus will be at the heart of a comprehensive and co-ordinated package of Government support provided through local and regional partners. The response to redundancy programme, offered jointly by EEDA, Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council, is also available to E.ON to complement the service provided by the rapid response service. It can offer a number of additional services, depending on work force needs-everything from child care for people attending training to advice on setting up a business. Importantly, the response to redundancy programme can also help to fund appropriate training courses for employees.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East mentioned Rochford district council and Essex county council, both of which are working to ensure E.ON staff will be able to access the advice that they need on benefits, finance and housing issues. I understand that a fact sheet has been produced bringing together all the resources available to people under threat of redundancy. I emphasise that all those public bodies are working together closely to ensure that E.ON staff can call on a co-ordinated and wide-ranging support package if the Rayleigh call centre does close.

Mr. Francois: I am grateful for what the Minister has said, and I am pleased to hear that E.ON is now actively talking to Jobcentre Plus. It might be a pure coincidence that that meeting took place this afternoon, on the day of this debate, but if, per chance, the fact that we secured this debate suddenly encouraged the company to talk to Jobcentre Plus properly, I would be pleased to know that perhaps we have achieved something by that method.

Ms Winterton: It is certainly true that there were some initial difficulties in making contact with E.ON to discuss its plans, but I am happy to say that constructive discussions are now taking place. Rochford district council is due to meet Right Management-the company engaged by E.ON, and to which the hon. Gentleman referred-in the next two weeks to discuss how its services can be integrated into the comprehensive support package that I have outlined.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of redundancy terms. I am advised that, if agreement is reached between the employer and the trade unions representing employees, the consultation period can be curtailed prior to its scheduled conclusion. In those circumstances, staff members would be released with payment in lieu of the period they are not working, and with the appropriate redundancy pay. As he said, he raised that with the company during his visit last Friday, and I understand that E.ON has indicated that, in the event of redundancies, it will try to be sympathetic to people working at the call centre. I also understand that E.ON is awaiting proposals on this issue from the union.

The Government have set up two schemes for people who need mortgage support. The first is the home owner mortgage support scheme, which is designed to help owner-occupiers who suffer a temporary fall in income, for example because of redundancy. The scheme provides a valuable bridge, giving home owners who are experiencing financial problems sufficient time to find
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new employment. Those who wish to take advantage of the scheme should contact their mortgage lenders.

The mortgage rescue scheme is delivered through local authorities, registered social landlords, lenders and debt advice agencies. It is designed to help both families with dependent children, and elderly people and other vulnerable groups, although I suspect that the latter two groups would perhaps not be relevant in this instance. The mortgage rescue scheme offers two options. The first option is a Government mortgage to rent, under which an RSL buys the property and rents it back to the applicant, and the second is shared equity, under which the RSL provides an equity loan, enabling the householder's mortgage repayments to be reduced. In those circumstances it is appropriate to contact the local authority.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we would be willing to support an open day for E.ON employees organised by Rochford district council. Were such an event to be organised, I can confirm that representatives from the Government office for the east of England would attend, as well as representatives from the East of England Development Agency, the Learning and Skills Council, and Jobcentre Plus, to ensure that E.ON employees got as much information and derived as much benefit as possible from the day. In such circumstances it is important to reassure employees that all the information about the support available is being pulled together, so that they can be confident that they know how to access that support.

Mr. Francois: I have discussed the concept with Mr. Paul Warren, the chief executive of Rochford district council, and Councillor Terry Cutmore, who is the leader of Rochford district council and who, by coincidence, used to work at the call centre a few years ago. They are both keen to help if they can, and I would like to thank the Minister on their behalf for what she has just said.

If I can briefly take the Minister back to the point about redundancy payments, I realise that there are a number of legal technicalities and that things are slightly complicated, but let me stress something. My point in principle is that if people have worked for the company-particularly if they have worked there for a number of years-and if they can get a job before the end of June, it is incumbent on the company to recognise the difficulty that they are in and the service that they have given, and not penalise their redundancies as a result. I want to drive that point home now, while I have the chance.

Ms Rosie Winterton: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is making that point to E.ON too, as I understand he indeed has. All such discussions are obviously subject to agreement between the company and the trade unions.

I understand that HMRC estimates that it will need 300 fewer staff in Southend by 2011, and that it aims to achieve this through natural wastage and a range of redeployment options for staff. There are no current plans for redundancy, and the intention remains to avoid that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East will also be aware that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced that a review was being held to look into ensuring that progress on seeing where civil servants might be relocated out of London to other areas continues, and that work is progressing as well.

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James Duddridge: I recognise the figure of 300, but the figure that I was quoted was around 1,000. Does the Minister recognise that 2,491 people were employed by HMRC in 2004 in the constituency that I have the honour to represent, but that that figure is projected to go down to 1,500 in 2011? I am looking at the longer term. Does she recognise that by 2011 there will have been a reduction of more than 1,000 jobs?

Ms Winterton: I am not completely au fait with the figures that pertained prior to the ones that I gave the House just now, but I obviously assume that the hon. Gentleman is speaking correctly when he describes that reduction. If there is anything else that I can add, however, I will write to him.

The Government are absolutely committed to creating as many new job opportunities as possible. The East of England Development Agency has done a lot of work to support businesses and people during the downturn, as well as looking to the future and considering the type of industries that we can encourage in order to ensure that we take advantage of all the job opportunities, once the recovery really gets under way. For example, it has supported the expansion of Southend airport, which is adjacent to Rochford. That could involve the creation of about 3,000 new jobs in the sub-region. The regional development agency has also invested heavily in the university campus at Southend to increase higher-level skills in an area that historically has not had all those skills. We hope that these important investments will boost the employment prospects of people in the area and make south Essex a much more attractive destination for commercial investment.

As I have said, we are certainly focusing on the generation of new jobs and new economic opportunities for people in Rayleigh and across the country. I very much hope that the people working at E.ON will be able to access such job opportunities if the call centre does indeed close. That is why we are standing four-square behind them at national level, working closely with local and regional partners. We want to ensure that people get the training, support and advice that they will need to cope with the transition, if it comes.

Mr. Francois: I apologise for interrupting the Minister's conclusion, but I want briefly to thank her for the spirit in which she has approached this debate. She has provided a lot of information for which I am sure my constituents will be grateful, and I thank her for that. I should like to thank my hon. Friend for being here to support me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West for supporting me in his rather punchy letter. That is very much his style. I should also like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my constituents, for giving me this opportunity to raise their fate in the Commons Chamber this evening. I am very grateful, and, with that, I shall allow the Minister to conclude her speech.

Ms Winterton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. I can assure him that we will remain in touch about any developments in the area, and try to ensure that, if the worst does happen, his constituents will be able to get back into work as soon as possible, with the kind of support that we are going to supply.

Question put and agreed to.

6.28 pm

House adjourned.

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