David Semple, PCS rep, Greater Glasgow branch
On Wednesday 7th December, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that 8 of the 16 Jobcentres in Glasgow were being considered for closure. These plans for closures were originally announced in 2015 by then Chancellor George Osborne as part of a plans to save millions by closing down civil service offices across the UK, but locations were not specified. If the DWP presses ahead with the plans, offices in Castlemilk, Cambuslang, Bridgeton, Easterhouse, Parkhead, Anniesland, Maryhill and Langside will be closed by March 2018.
Reps from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union were ready for the attack, despite only being notified that morning that the employer was going to make an announcement. The union’s Group Executive Committee, which runs the union in DWP, ensured that a rep was in place at every site to outline the nature of the attack on DWP staff and the claimants they serve. At meetings on each site, they outlined a strategy for the next few weeks, so that members felt empowered to resist.
Nationally, PCS arranged for SNP MPs Angus Robertson and Patrick Grady to ask questions at Prime Minister’s Questions, and a press release from PCS Scotland made it into the Daily Record. Ian Pope, chair of PCS’ Scotland Committee and a leading member of the PCS “Left Unity” faction, a broad left in which the Socialist Party participates, was interviewed by STV and Capital Radio; he gave the clear message that the union will oppose the cuts.
Union members at each site had mixed reactions. Some were shocked, as some of the closures are happening in the most deprived parts of Glasgow and will impose additional costs on claimants, to travel to Jobcentres in the future, to get help searching for work. Others were expecting the announcement, having seen the number of empty desks grow over the last six years, during which the government has cut 30,000 staff from DWP.
No further jobs will be lost – in fact DWP has recruited an additional 6,000 staff this year and next year is likely to look at recruiting more. The cuts are being made to save money, as the buildings used by the civil service are, for the most part, privatised. This happened almost 20 years ago, when all the buildings were sold off and a contract awarded to Telereal Trillium, a private company, to look after the estate.
The union’s DWP Group Executive Committee, on which members of the Socialist Party hold key roles, have arranged time for every site to have a meeting for union members, once members have had time to consider the news. The GEC has pledged that any office that members think should remain open will get the full support of the union.
As well as site meetings, union reps from across Glasgow will be convening a joint meeting with campaign groups such as Black Triangle, other unions and those with a vested interested in protecting local public services that can offer assistance to the most vulnerable to access what remains of the welfare state. Union reps have also asked for a meeting with the local MPs, to ratchet up pressure and provoke serious political opposition to the cuts.
Officers from the DWP Group Executive Committee will meet on 14th December to discuss what a further strategy for the upcoming weeks and months, as further office closures are likely to be announced, as the DWP continues to try and make savings.