Centralising public sector jobs starves communities of employment, worsens traffic and strains mental health

The commute

Warren Davies

At the beginning of the month, it was announced that five Department for Work and Pensions offices in Wales will close with up to 1,700 staff being relocated to a single site.

The Westminster Government, which runs the DWP, claims it will be more “cost-effective” but the reality is likely to be devastating for the workers who now need to move office.

Offices will close in Cardiff, Newport, Merthyr Tydfil, Cwmbran and Caerphilly, with one new base near Treforest.

This seems to be part of a pattern of centralising public-sector jobs, either in Cardiff or a stone’s throw away up the A470.

The Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, Andrew Morgan, may well be pleased by the move. But while his county wins, local communities across the region lose out.

The policy of creating working “hubs” for non-devolved civil service offices will create deserts of public sector employment elsewhere.

Public bodies should have a responsibility to spread all over Wales. Decentralisation should be the rallying call. These jobs help maintain local economies and make communities viable.

Instead what we have are areas that become completely reliant on one place of work, with devastating effects when that place of work decides to up sticks and leave.

Transport

The move will also likely be devastating for hundreds of workers who live nowhere near Treforest and will need to commute there.

The DWP are subjecting hundreds of employees to a longer commute.  As we know, because of poor public transport infrastructure, it’s very difficult to get from some of these locations to the other.

Aside from the inefficiency of commuting, long commutes are known to be a key aggravating factor in worsening physical and mental health.

The PCS union have already pointed out that up to half the staff affected would be unable to move with the work.

They also pointed that those with disabilities or caring responsibilities would find it hard to travel further.

Employees will be forced to rely on motorised transport. The commute from Cwmbran to Treforest on foot or bike is a non-starter. And 1700 employees converging on one site will cause traffic mayhem.

This directly conflicts with the aims of the Active Travel Act which has been law in Wales since 2013.

The decision also flies in the face of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The act was the outcome of a 12-month long consultation ‘The Wales We Want’, which involved people from all over the country.

As part of the public sector, the DWP should be leading the way in promoting the health of their employees, not undermining it by forcing them to travel further to work.

The DWP will carry out Equality Impact assessments nine months before the move. Obviously, this is far too late in the day to do anything meaningful.

If the DWP was part of the Welsh public sector, then the well-being of employees would have already been assessed, and most likely the decision to move should have been stopped.

Efficiency

Meanwhile, no figures have been published to back up the DWP’s claim that the move will be more cost-effective”.

Of course, in one large centre, it’ll be easier to make one kind of savings – job cuts. “Efficiency savings” will have to be found. This move will cost jobs, if not now, then later.

Developers will also benefit from the move. While austerity strikes for services, there seems to be a bottomless pit of capital for new buildings.

There has been political opposition. Gerald Jones, MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney secured a parliamentary debate on the subject. Various MPs from around the region condemned the decision.

Their argument and concerns were, however, brushed aside by the Minister for Employment, Alok Sharma.

Naturally, the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, approves of the move. This decision is about Westminster showing their strength, and ‘investing’ in Wales.

The fact that the DWP, controlled by Westminster, is riding roughshod over the spirit of Welsh legislation seems to be irrelevant to them.

This is a kick in the teeth for Welsh democracy and will have a negative impact on the health of employees and their communities.

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