March to defend DWP Vinovium House, Bishop Auckland

Group President Fran Heathcote speaks at a rally in Barrow against the closure of that office. Local branch secretary Kris Houghton (pictured) and other reps were supported by the Barrow Trades Council and other unions.

The Left Unity-led PCS DWP Group Executive Committee continue to provide full support to branches and offices campaigning against closure. Vinovium House in Bishop Auckland is one of the eleven hotspot sites across DWP in Scotland, England and Wales where redundancies are feared.

Durham County branch have been mounting a determined campaign to mobilise members so that the employer is in no doubt that there will be a fight, unless the concerns of members are addressed. Specific negotiations are on-going with DWP, to protect the hotspot sites. Below is the leaflet being used for the demonstration planned for Saturday 18th March.

Bishop Auckland joins Glasgow branches and Cumbria branch, who held demonstrations on 11th March.

Also included below is the text from the local MPs press release, which shows that political pressure from PCS members locally continues to yield results. DWP must take full account of local circumstances and change their proposal to close Vinovium House.

Bishop Auckland office anti-closure campaign

Helen Goodman MP raises serious concerns in Parliament around DWP office closure in Bishop Auckland and the effect on families.
No Job Centre Closure – March in Bishop Auckland on 18th March

Speakers: Helen Goodman MP, Joy Allen Bishop Auckland Counsellor and Charlotte Metcalf PCS DWP Durham Branch Secretary
Assemble 11:30 at Vinovium House for March – Rally 12.30 Market Place

Helen Goodman MP, parliamentary representative of Bishop Auckland has raised serious concerns around the proposed closure of local DWP offices. Responding to Damien Green MP, Minister for Employment.
Ms Goodman raised in Parliament last night during an adjournment debate the plight of families affected by the ‘highly controversial’ reforms to Child Support introduced by the Government last year which have left 1.1m cases in the CSA system and arrears totalling £3.4bn:
”It is vital for those million families’ welfare –probably 1.5 million children that this money is recovered and paid to them. There is no published plan for how the debt cases will be administered at Vinovium House if the closure goes ahead. The team at Vinovium House had secured the debt work until 2020.
”What exactly is the Department’s plan? How does it intend to run it or is the plan to let the old child support system wither on the vine, irrespective of the impact on the 1 million families receiving their money?”
Also advocating for children and families in poverty, Helen said:
“Child poverty is increasing under this Government, and further delays in Department for Work and Pensions systems for child support will undoubtedly tip some families over the edge.” “

There has been no proper equality impact assessment of the proposed closure. 64 staff are women, the vast majority of whom work part time close to home as they have caring responsibilities for children in nearby schools and elderly parents.
Helen’s speech highlights the impact on these families:
“The Tory party claims to be the party of the family. This change will adversely affect at least 85 families and will have a devastating impact. The underlying issues are travel times and costs, the lack of affordable childcare and the fact that most people who work at Vinovium House combine their job with some caring responsibilities. Many work part-time close to home, as they have caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents.”

In a letter to Employment Minister Damien Green MP, Helen outlines how the loss of the DWP office will be a blow to the local community and economy of Bishop Auckland.
“We have already lost our courts, HMRC offices and driving test centre. The staff are extremely well respected – they were a top 5 office when they administered incapacity benefit and are currently the highest performing office. They are 100% committed to the local area shown through the phenomenal fundraising that they do for the area which reflects positively on local perception of the Department for Works and Pensions. Recent receipts show that staff at Vinovium House have contributed over £4,000 in the town centre in the last two weeks …so the local shops would suffer.”
The local DWP group has calculated that the receipts for the local area would equate to £95333.33 lost to the local economy in a year should the DWP staff be removed from the DWP office in Bishop Auckland.
Helen raised the matter in the Adjournment debate yesterday:
“The one-to-one interviews currently being conducted are a sham. Staff are being asked to say whether they are willing to be transferred to other jobs or to leave on voluntary redundancy but they are not being told where else they might work”
• Ms Goodman challenged Caroline Noakes, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Welfare Delivery to do more to understand the impact of the proposed changes.
“I strongly suggest that the Minister’s officials stop looking on Google Maps and that she send them up to the north to start looking at the geographical problems. Let them try to get a bus at 8 o’clock in the morning to Washington, near Sunderland, or to Newcastle, and get back in time ​to collect children from school at 3 o’clock. It is frankly impossible.”

Helen went on to say:
“The DWP guide for staff travel is 1 hour, how many sites are available for staff to transfer to within an hour of travel by public transport?”
Caroline Nokes MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in her reply acknowledged:
“DWP staff are our most valuable asset” and conceded “the High performance of the staff at this location”. She added that “Closure of Vinovium House is still only a proposal at this stage and we are continuing the consultation process with our staff to assess how each might be affected”
However, in a letter to Damien Green, Helen Goodman questioned the reassurance of this being ‘only a proposal’ given that the Medical Service examination staff are currently being informed of a new place of work.

Editors notes:
1. Details for the march including speakers: Gather at 11:30 outside of Vinovium House, 12:00 start of the march, 12:30 Rally at the market place. Speakers will include Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland, Joy Allen Local Counsellor, Charlotte Metcalf PCS Branch Secretary for DWP Durham Branch
2. The EDM tabled by Helen Goodman MP is here: https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/1001
For more information on the Campaign to stop the closure at Bishop Auckland contact
Steve Swainston on : 07968 830 215 or email voodoosteve[at]gmail.com

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PCS Left Unity

Left Unity is a faction within the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) that is represented at every level of the union, from branches and workplaces to the National Executive Committee. We believe in a democratic and fighting union and have a proud history within PCS and its predecessor unions in delivering for members.