Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Last ditch appeal to save Llanelli benefits office

Column in Llanelli Herald on 14th July

When Teresa May became Prime Minister she said she wanted to spread opportunity to people who had been left behind, and spread wealth around the country. Fast forward one year and her Ministers are determined to strip 150 jobs from Llanelli town centre.

On Wednesday Nia Griffith and I held our second meeting with the man behind the plan, Department for Work & Pension Minister Damien Hinds. As before, he was charming but indifferent to Llanelli's plight.

The DWP are planning the centralise the staff from Crown Buildings working on sicknesses benefit claims, work capability assessments and crisis loans, and move them to 'hubs' based in Cardiff, Swansea, Bridgend and Pembroke Dock.

I've been working with Ministers in the Welsh Government for months to come up with a Plan B but the UK Government just haven't been willing to play ball. Welsh Government Minister Julie James is also meeting with Damien Hinds in an attempt to get him to re-think. 

The Welsh Labour Government have already offered to make space available at offices they fund in the area in order to keep work here, and I asked the DWP Minister to keep an open mind to see if a local solution can be found to keep these jobs in Llanelli, but based on our meeting I'm not optimistic.

We patiently explained the local jobs situation, the congestion problem as people already commute out of the area each morning, and the enormous difficulties staff with caring responsibilities will have in moving offices - especially the people who work part-time on fairly modest wages.

He listened, and explained they wanted less office space overall and there'd be benefits from working in larger offices. Despite his manners and charm it was at this point I concluded this was a dialogue of the deaf. 

DWP managers will begin holding 1:1 meetings with staff in the next few weeks to discuss where they may be moved to. Staff will be given help with travel costs and those who aren't able or willing to travel will be offered voluntary redundancies.

We sought assurances that if staff are moved that they won't have to move again in a year or so once a planned big new office near Cardiff is ready. The Minister said the moves would be permanent and at equivalent grades.

He gave us the impression that this was a done deal and the Minister had no sympathy for getting jobs in west Wales. They are pushing ahead with a big centralisation programme which will take jobs out of the parts of Wales that need them the most and concentrate them in Cardiff. That was not what Teressa May promised when she became Prime Minister.

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