Government to retreat from local public services

3 February 2016

The government's announcement today of plans to close 75% of its offices in the coming years amounts to a wholesale retreat from providing local public services.

A statement posted online by the Cabinet Office tries to paint a picture of old-style government buildings that are no longer required.

But the real intention is buried at the end when it highlights how much floorspace is taken up by jobcentres in our communities.

A written statement by the minister Matthew Hancock describes the aim as being to create "more modern, efficient and smarter workplaces".

But it comes days after BIS, the government department tasked with helping businesses to grow and improve, confirmed 250 Sheffield jobs were at risk with plans to close its office in the city.

A briefing issued to staff, whose work would move to London, states: "Video conferencing can work well to support one-to-one discussions but does not work as well for 'many-to-many' meetings and can provide a substandard experience for those who are regularly at a distance."

It adds: "We do not envisage that extensive remote working will be appropriate for most roles."

Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and a shadow Cabinet Office minster, told parliament yesterday she had seen a staff briefing that said one of the main reasons for closure was "because the phones and computers don’t work properly".

HM Revenue and Customs, currently facing allegations of doing a sweetheart deal with Google on its tax arrangements, plans to close all but a handful of its 170 offices in the UK, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

The move has already led to more than 150 staff facing compulsory redundancy.

Commenting on today's announcement, our general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The fact is these aren't grey civil service offices from another era, they are jobcentres, tax offices, courts, sites providing vital local services that people will find it harder to access, particularly the more vulnerable.

"Closure plans on this scale expose the lie at the heart of Tory policies for our regional economies, whether the so-called northern powerhouse, the midlands or elsewhere."



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