HC Deb 13 February 2004 vol 418 cc309-10W
Mr. Hancock

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on the factors which underlay decisions to(a) relocate work and (b) close his Department's offices in the South-East Region; [151631]

(2) what factors underlay the decisions (a) to close offices, (b) to transfer work through relocation and centralisation and (c) not to replace permanent staff in (i) Portsmouth, (ii) Southampton and (iii) the Isle of Wight; and if he will make a statement. [152149]

Mr. Browne

Jobcentre Plus and The Pension Service are modernising the services we provide to our customers. This modernisation is increasing the number of places where people can get information about work and benefits.

Jobcentre Plus is providing improved customer access through telephone contract centres, the internet and new, dedicated caller offices. The creation of new style Jobcentre Plus offices is providing customers with premises where they can make inquiries both about their benefits and about job opportunities in one place.

The Pension Service has a network of pension centres, complemented by a local service delivered in partnership with local authorities and voluntary sector organisations. The Pension Service is meeting pensioners in their local communities, holding appointment and drop-in advice surgeries in places that they are familiar with, such as Age Concern and CAB outlets, local libraries and community centres.

The purpose of these plans was to provide all the Department's customers in Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isles of Wight; in the South East Region; and in the country as a whole with a modern and efficient service. These services are being targeted where people need them after consultation with local welfare agencies, local authorities, MPs and others. Where necessary duplication of sites is being reduced, helping to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money. Overall these plans are building on the high quality service already provided by social security offices and Jobcentres by delivering a service tailored to the specific needs of its customers.

In determining the location of the new Jobcentre Plus offices a great many factors are taken into account. These factors include, but are not limited to, the population size and spread, the quality, cost and availability of local transport, the distance between offices, concentrations of our key customer groups, areas designated for urban renewal or other regeneration initiatives, employers' needs, labour market characteristics, the availability of suitable office accommodation, the cost of maintenance and disposal, and the availability of staff and ability to relocate existing local staff. In some cases we have found that industrial and demographic change has left our offices situated in less than ideal locations. This modernisation programme provides an opportunity to critically review where we can best locate our offices to deliver services to meet the needs of the local community.