18 March 2022

DWP office closures: Barrow In Furness

In her role as a DWP group executive committee officer, Fran went to Phoenix House in Barrow in Furness to support PCS members facing the announcement that their office is closing, the work will be sent elsewhere and there is little chance of redeployment.

DWP are carrying out a significant number of closures and 'lift and drops' as they call them, under the banner of 'Workplace Transformation' or Network Design'. PCS has continually made the argument that these members are people with lives to consider, and that you cannot simply 'lift and drop' people.

Members at Barrow have been here before. Back in 2017, they were faced with the prospect of their office closing under the DWP's 'People and Location strategy'. The branch ran a determined campaign, backed up by support from organisations such as the Asbestos Support Group - Barrow in Furness was one of only two sites delivering Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and has built strong links with these organisations. The members campaigned tirelessly, and the campaign won them a reprieve, ensuring that they could continue to deliver the quality service that they do. I spoke at their rally in 2017, held in the centre of Barrow In Furness, and remembered many of the members from meetings we held then.

PCS members were shocked and angered that once again, despite their years of specialist experience, having worked in the building to deliver to the public throughout the pandemic, they were facing closure. After the management announcement, I spoke to members about the background of the announcement and how we can best support them. Tears and shock quickly turned to questions about the rationale for what DWP were doing, and what we could do about it. I met members both as a group, then individually, to discuss their concerns.

PCS is fundamentally opposed to the decision by DWP to cut the estate, using the rationale that their vision is:

  • Smaller -  reducing the number of sites
  • Better - investing in refurbishment
  • Greener - the estate will be adapted to be more sustainable and energy efficient.

Members quickly saw through this. The closure lists include new, energy-efficient buildings and it is clear that this forms part of a government strategy to save money and ultimately cut staff, despite ministers' claims to the contrary. 

The impact on a community such as Barrow is devastating. An area of high unemployment, little opportunity of redeployment, either in DWP or elsewhere and the impact on service delivery or the local economy have clearly not been considered.

Members are thinking through their options. Whilst some may choose to leave, for many, financially, this is not an option and I have received messages this morning giving indications of the numbers who want to keep their jobs and we will continue to discuss this in the days ahead.   

PCS will campaign with reps and members to defend every member and oppose every closure. It is clear that some of the decisions have not been properly considered and we will work with branches to make sure that no stone is unturned.

MP and media interest is high. Members are rightly concerned about their jobs, but about the service to the public too. Whilst this is back of house staff now, the government clearly has a strategy to review jobcentres too. PCS will not stand by and watch this government attack our members' jobs, as well as the vital services we provide to the needy in society.

Let's stand up for jobs, let's stand up for rights, let's stand up for services.