Jobcentre Plus closures in Scotland Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Coordination and communication of announcements

1.The timeline of announcements—with Glasgow Jobcentre closures announced in early December with changes to provision in other UK cities left until late January—was unfortunate and gave the impression that Glasgow may have been singled out or used as a pilot, even if that was not the case. The date of the expiry of the Private Finance Initiative contract known as PRIME (which was largely the catalyst for this policy) has been known since the contract was agreed twenty years ago. It is therefore unacceptable that the communication, announcements, and consultation about these closures appear to have been rushed and show a lack of planning on the part of the Department. (Paragraph 6)

2.We recommend that the Government learns from the fact that it had to alter its communications strategy part way through this process, from a strategy of phased announcements to publishing the full list of closures only a few weeks after the Glasgow announcement. The Government should consider more carefully when a phased communication approach is or is not appropriate. As the Department learnt, there are considerable disadvantages to making incremental announcements about UK wide changes which stakeholders are already aware are coming. (Paragraph 7)

3.The Scotland Act 2016 transferred a range of welfare and social security powers to Scotland. We were pleased to hear that the UK and Scottish governments are working closely together to coordinate that devolution of powers. However, we are disappointed that, when making a decision on a closely related policy—the future of Jobcentres in Scotland—the UK Government did not seek or appear to take into account the wishes of the Scottish Government. (Paragraph 12)

4.Given that a large proportion of welfare policy was devolved in the Scotland Act 2016, we recommend that any future policy decisions which may have an impact on the way that social security is administered in Scotland must be taken in consultation with the Scottish Government. (Paragraph 12)

Provision of Jobcentres

5.We note that the expiration of the PRIME contract represents the first opportunity in 20 years for the Department to consider how the Jobcentre estate can best be modernised to meet the needs of users and deliver value for money. We accept the Government’s argument that this is an opportunity to improve the Jobcentre network, both in terms of value for money and accessibility. What we have heard about the proposals for the closure of Jobcentres in Glasgow, however, represents a missed opportunity. There appears to have been a lack of strategic thinking about what Jobcentre provision could best serve the residents of Glasgow. The Department’s policies appear to have focused only on how many and where cuts in office numbers could be made and relied on existing Jobcentre locations regardless of whether, two decades on, they still deliver the right coverage. Given that this is the first opportunity for reform of the estate in 20 years, we are disappointed that this is the best the Government could produce. (Paragraph 23)

6.When it came to the criteria used by the Department to make decisions on Jobcentre provision in Glasgow, we were especially dissatisfied with the confusing evidence provided by the Minister and his Department. When deciding on locations for Jobcentre offices in the city, we are still unclear whether the Department considered “holistically” or only looked at how to “utilise existing sites”. If it is the former, we are surprised that the Department has not chosen to open any new Jobcentres in Glasgow—in particular in the city centre which could allow for easier access from most regions of the city—and make more fundamental changes to the Jobcentre network in the city. If it is the latter, we can only conclude that the Government has demonstrated a disappointing lack of ambition or concern for the users of Jobcentres. (Paragraph 24)

7.We recommend that the Department conducts a full and proper evaluation of Jobcentre provision in Glasgow. This must give proper consideration to the geography and transport infrastructure of the city. From the evidence that we have received, we specifically recommend that the Department considers the creation of a large Jobcentre in the City Centre with a small number of additional offices in those areas with poor transport connections to the centre. The Department should send us a copy of that study and inform us of its decision on the matter. (Paragraph 25)

Impact on Jobcentre Plus users and staff

8.Given that the closure of any local Jobcentre will have an impact on all users, staff and the surrounding community, we are disappointed that the Minister has only sought the views of the public on a select few number of proposed closures which breach arbitrary ‘ministerial criteria’. We recommend that the Government runs a proper consultation on the changes to the Jobcentre network as a whole, not just those individual Jobcentres which breach the ministerial criteria. (Paragraph 31)

9.We are particularly concerned that the Department may not have considered the needs of the most vulnerable members of society who rely on the facilities provided by Jobcentres. We recommend that the Government publishes equality impact assessments for each of the proposed closures before any firm decision is made. The Government should make use of the consultation responses when preparing these assessments. (Paragraph 40)

10.The Minister’s evidence that the number of sanctions would not rise as a result of the closures of Jobcentres throughout the UK does not correspond with the bulk of the evidence that we have received, in particular that the travel times between Jobcentres may be longer than estimated by the Department. We are concerned that, in the shorter-term, claimants who have been forced to change Jobcentres may find themselves late for—or missing—appointments due to that change in arrangements. We recommend that the Department sets out what mitigation will be in place for Jobcentre users who have had to change Jobcentres and for how long in order to reassure service users. (Paragraph 46)

11.While we understand that the Government has not yet published the result of its consultations, it is not acceptable that staff working in Jobcentres throughout the UK remain in the dark about whether or not their jobs are secure. We note the Department’s prediction that the number of people employed in Jobcentres will rise in the future, but we are disappointed that this may be at the same time as a programme of redundancies as a result of this policy. Now that all consultations are closed, we recommend that the Department publishes a clear statement about what expectations will be put on staff in terms of ability to relocate so that staff have clarity and more certainty about their future by the end of April. We also recommend that the Government works closely with unions and staff directly to provide adequate opportunities for retraining and support with relocation to those staff being asked to change roles or location as a result of this policy. (Paragraph 51)

20 April 2017