Friday, 3 February 2017

Tearing out much needed employment for the Llanelli economy

This column appeared in the Llanelli Herald on 3rd February 2016

146 people currently work in the Department for Work and Pensions office in the middle of Llanelli.

Some come from far and wide as the result of previous re-locations, but most live in the area.

These are not Job Centre roles but so-called ‘back of house’ functions. The team that are affected mostly work on dealing with sickness benefit claims, work capability assessments and crisis loans.

The Whitehall department announced last week that they want to ‘modernise their estate’. The Conservative Minister in charge in London wrote to me to tell me that because we now have “record levels of employment across Wales” - apparently -  and 80% of people who claim Jobseekers Allowance now do so online, the benefit offices need less space.

But rather than working with Carmarthenshire Council, or even the Welsh Government, to try and find better accommodation locally, the UK Government have announced they want to centralise offices in Cardiff and Pembroke Dock.

In their letter to me the DWP said workers would be offered alternative roles in “a nearby location”. Only a civil servant in London would consider Cardiff and Pembroke Dock as nearby Llanelli!

Forcing up to 146 people to add to the congestion out of Llanelli every morning will suck out even more trade and footfall from the town centre, adding further to its decline.

It is becoming clear that many would find the commute impractical and risk becoming classes as ‘surplus’ by the DWP. If no other roles can be found locally they face the risk of redundancy.

Either way the move risks tearing out much needed employment for the Llanelli economy. It flies in the face of the words of the Prime Minister that she wants to spread wealth around the UK.

I fail to see how taking jobs from one of the most deprived parts of Wales to one of the most successful parts helps with that.

I tabled an Urgent Question in the Senedd this week to urge the Welsh Government to get the Westminster DWP to re-think this badly thought through plan. Nia Griffith and I are holding a public meeting at Paddock St Community Centre on Saturday 11th February at 10.30am to organise the fight back against the DWP plan to close its Llanelli office.

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