Campaign update – Bishop Auckland office
As part of the DWP “People and Locations Programme”, the proposal to close the DWP site at Bishop Auckland was announced to staff on 26 January 2017. Our Left Unity-led Group Executive Committee (GEC) have made their opposition to the closures clear and a campaign is underway to oppose the needless and damaging closures which are clearly based purely on cost, without consideration for the harm that will be done to members and the communities they live in and serve.
It was indicated to staff in Bishop Auckland by management that although there would be a consultation period that the decision was virtually made and that there was little that could be done.
The employer was unable to give any assurances to the members about their future other than to say that they wouldtry to avoid any compulsory redundancies. No assurances were given about which office might be available for them to move to, nor were staff even told whether they would be within travelling time. This means a very real prospect that some staff would have no option than to leave the Department if a suitable office could not be found for them.
Member of Left Unity and PCS DWP Group Assistant Secretary Steve Swainston was on site when the announcement was made. He told members there that the GEC opposed the damaging, pernicious cuts and would fight alongside members to prevent the office closure. He told members that the consultation period was a real opportunity to change the decision and that by working together members, the branch and the local community could campaign to save the office.
After the meeting Steve met with local Labour Councillor Joy Allen to start the process of building the political opposition to the closure. She along with the local Labour MP Helen Goodman are now actively campaigning against the closure. Helen Goodman has raised questions in the House of Commons regarding the proposed closure and the impact of losing these local jobs on the town.
A few weeks later, Steve returned to the site to hold another meeting of union members, in opposition to the closure.
Members collected receipts of their spending in Bishop Auckland to demonstrate their contribution to the struggling local economy which would be lost if the office were to close. In two weeks the staff had spent over £4,000. This would mean the closure would take over £104,000 from local businesses.
Petitions have been started both locally and on-line which are gathering support from members, their families and the local community. All PCS members, members of other unions and members of the public can sign the petition (click on this link) to show our opposition to the closure. Branch reps and PCS members are planning a rally on Saturday 18th March, to get the support of people in the town.
Local press coverage of the proposed coverage has been extensive, with four articles in the Northern Echo and interviews with the local branch officers aired on the news on the Made in Tyne and Wear channel. Across the UK, PCS reps are making the voice of members heard, through their work with local media, and the GEC has issued guidance to give reps confidence in speaking to the press. Activism like this is crucial to the campaign, and the LU-led GEC has firmly opposed instances where the employer has sought to undermine reps engaged in press work.
The GEC is proposing to unite political opposition to office closures by holding a lobby of Parliament. A reps meeting is also planned, from all of the “hotspot” sites, including Bishop Auckland, to build the widest possible opposition to proposals that risk compulsory redundancies for our members in DWP. By organising staff, our members, to oppose these plans, we can force the employer back, defend public services and defend our jobs.