MPs slam closure of benefits offices

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POLITICAL leaders in Mansfield and Ashfield have slammed a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to close two benefits offices as part of a cost-cutting drive.

It was announced on Friday that benefit centres at Hill House in Mansfield and High Pavement in Sutton will close along with several others in the country in order to make better use of resources.

Officials at the DWP say the move will not affect the high street Job Centre where people can look for jobs. They also insist that benefits claims will be unaffected.

A spokesman from the DWP said: “We can’t afford to carry on paying for buildings which aren’t fully used.

“Frontline Jobcentre Plus face-to-face services aren’t impacted by this and we’ve made sure that all the staff affected have the option of moving elsewhere in the organisation. In tough financial times we have to operate as efficiently as possible.”

Job Centre Plus wrote to all staff and unions about the work in December last year, and in March a consultation exercise was held allowing them to comment on the criteria to be used to decide which sites would be closed.

According to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which mainly represents workers in Government departments, the decision will affect 117 workers in Mansfield and 62 in Sutton.

The DWP says staff will be redeployed to other areas, and the spokesman added: “We will offer every member of staff affected a job elsewhere in Jobcentre Plus and help with travel costs.”

But the decision has angered Mansfield MP Alan Meale who was told about it by the secretary of state at the Department of Work and Pensions Chris Grayling.

“I told the secretary of state he was wrong and that actually he was a disgrace for cutting this service in the area, especially as it followed on from the closure of a Connexions service,” Mr Meale said.

“I reminded him that unemployment amongst 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK was now at its highest and it has increased by 43,000 since the Conservatives took office.

“I told him that I couldn’t agree with his decision and would be raising the issue whenever possible in the House of Commons.”

And Ashfield MP Gloria de Piero said: “With rising unemployment in Ashfield, it is the people who rely on benefits who will suffer more than ever so it seems crazy to be relocating these vital staff at this crucial time.”

The decision has also been slammed by bosses at the PCS union who say the move could lead to strike action. General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is a deeply flawed and dangerous plan that will remove vital support to jobseekers and people claiming welfare at precisely the time the Government’s ideological cuts will throw more people out of work.

“Instead of cutting jobs, the Government should be investing in public services like these to help get people back to work more quickly and help our economy to get back on track.”