182 jobs will be lost from Newport.
DWP have announced the closure of several offices in South Wales including their Sovereign House operation in Newport. Sovereign House has been at the heart of the Newport community for many years and almost 200 back office staff are employed here.
Precious civil service jobs are of increasing importance as manufacturing industries have declined. Current plans will strip these jobs from the city centre and move them to Treforest.
After leading a debate in Parliament objecting to the closure and meeting with the Minister responsible last week, it is clear that DWP are making baseless decisions and rationalising afterwards. Nonsensical Government strategy to move civil servants into hubs has manufactured irrational decisions. Not unusual for this Government, but this time Newport is the casualty.
When downsizing means upsizing
DWP plan to construct a new super hub in Treforest which will hold 1600 staff.
The rationale for hub-mania? DWP insist they have too much floor space relative to the number of employees and must downsize their estate to make savings. As a result Sovereign House will be axed by the Department as the building has capacity for 400 people and is only half full.
Confusingly Government have admitted the hub will allow the number of staff in South Wales to increase by 20%. Sovereign House will be closed under the guise of saving on floor space and cost when new staff could be easily accommodated in the remaining space here.
Existing infrastructure and solutions have clearly not been investigated. Government believe that purchasing land and constructing a new super hub is more cost effective than maintaining and upgrading their current offices. So as not to be proven wrong they helpfully “have not acquired specific refurbishment quotes for the buildings in question” and refuse to state any costs of the Treforest site.
Old buildings are beyond upgrading, unless they are in Whitehall.
DWP Minister Damien Hinds denounced Sovereign House, a 1960s building, as “particularly old.” Yet the Education Department are moving from a modern building constructed in 1991 and refurbished in 2009. Instead staff will find themselves shunted to the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall, constructed in the 1720s. No doubt the building’s listed status will make upgrades expected of a modern office difficult. The refurbishment bill for this 1600 person hub weighs in at a hefty £50 million.
If a site fits the hub mantra then money is no object and age no barrier.
Untold impact on Newport
Losing these jobs will have an untold impact on Newport city centre. Civil service jobs in Newport have been a great success providing many local people with well-paid, stable work and career progression.
Having these jobs in the local community is of great importance for the economy. Sovereign House workers support local shops, restaurants and businesses in the city centre which will be negatively impacted by the closure. To hear that Government has no plans to publish or carry out impact assessments is not good enough.
Welsh Government are at odds with the plans as they have been prioritising the placement of jobs where they are most needed to address poverty in Wales. Their commitment is to creating better jobs closer to home for employees. The UK Government are wilfully undermining this policy to the detriment of Newport.
Treating employees with contempt
Employees only found out that the new hub would be in Treforest after plans were leaked on the architect’s website. DWP have not been transparent with their staff.
In an exercise of utilitarianism civil servants picked Treforest as the best site for most employees using average travel times from google maps. Incredulously they have not bothered to ask employees if they can relocate. A full consultation would likely contradict their unrealistic low estimate of the numbers who will be unable to relocate.
DWP fail to recognise that their staff are not pins in a google map. Sovereign House is full of hard working and reliable employees, many with commute restricting caring responsibilities and disabilities. Public transport issues limit the reasonable distance that staff can travel to a new location and cost of the commute will hit low income families hardest in the long-term.
With the Minister admitting the business case for the hub is “in development” there is vital opportunity to apply objectivity to the process. Only with published accurate comparative cost models, an impact analysis on Newport city centre and the needs of staff taken into consideration should a decision be taken.
Sovereign House is a good investment with a stable, skilled, experienced workforce. Staff turnover in Newport is much lower than some of the larger inner city offices elsewhere in DWP. A rigorous analysis of the evidence would present Newport as the best investment option for future jobs.