MPs call for review of Glasgow Jobcentre closure plans
Controversial plans to shut Jobcentre Plus offices in Glasgow would not provide an adequate service, a Commons committee has found.
A report from the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) said the plans "showed a lack of clear planning."
Its chairman, Pete Wishart, said the exercise appeared to have been driven by the desire to save money.
But the UK government said the plans would improve the service while making best use of taxpayers' money.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in December 2016, that eight of the 16 Jobcentre Plus offices in Glasgow were to be closed.
It had already announced the closure or moving of 30 other offices across the UK as part of a programme which would save £180m a year for the next 10 years.
The SAC report "Jobcentre Plus Closures in Scotland," said that despite the opportunity for the first time in 20 years to reorganise the Jobcentre estate, the DWP had missed an opportunity to review provision in Glasgow from first principals.
It said: "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."
Mr Wishart said: "Nothing in this policy backs up the UK government's insistence that it is a result of carefully-thought out, long-term planning and not just an opportunistic cost-cutting exercise."
He added: "Jobcentre Plus centres are there to serve their communities, when people are often at their most vulnerable; these proposals will fail to do this adequately.
"We urge the government to look at this policy again and come back with a coherent solution that works for the people who use the service, as well as being value for money."
The PCS union said the DWP's policy appeared not to take Glasgow's transport infrastructure into account.
Ian Pope, from the union, said: "The department has admitted it used Google maps to decide where the nearest Jobcentre was.
"But these were up to three years out of date, and in many cases bus routes shown there no longer exist.
"If the DWP had consulted with us, we would have sat down with them, and attempted to work out where Jobcentres should be to the benefit of claimants across the city."
The committee said it was surprised the DWP had 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.
Calling for a review of the government's proposals, the report said: "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."
It recommended the creation of a large Jobcentre in the city centre with a small number of additional offices in areas with poor transport connections to the centre.
Following the announcement of the Glasgow closures, the DWP said in January 2017 it would be merging 78 smaller Jobcentre Plus offices, co-locating a further 50 with local authorities and closing a number of back office buildings.
The government said it was able to carry out the programme because a contract signed in 1998 under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), to provide offices for the department, was coming to an end.
In a statement a DWP spokesman said: "We've been clear that this is about improving the services we deliver, while making best use of taxpayers' money.
"We are in the process of consulting with staff, and final decisions will be made after that is completed."
It said 80% of Jobseeker's Allowance claims were now made online and claimants would only have to pay the cost of travelling to the Jobcentre when they signed on. On other occasions if they were called into the office, fares would be reimbursed.