Agenda item

Employment and employability in Brent - Department for Work and Pensions update

Scrutiny has requested an update from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to the confirmation of two of the four Jobcentres in Brent (Kilburn and Willesden) being closed.  The DWP report is attached as appendix 1, outlining the impact of the closures and mitigations in place for job seekers in Brent.  The covering report intends to explain the partnership working between the council and DWP.

Minutes:

The Chair explained that the committee had requested the update from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in order to explore the immediate and long term impact on Brent’s residents of the impending closures of two of the four Job Centres in Brent.

 

The committee welcomed Anu Bilon, (District Operations Manager, DWP) to the meeting. Anu Bilon advised that she held responsibility for Job Centres in Brent and Hounslow and drew members’ attention to the DWP update report. The report outlined the proposals to close the Willesden and Kilburn Job Centres and merge them with existing sites in Wembley and Harlesden. The committee heard that the closures would come into effect on 2 March 2018. 

 

In the subsequent discussion the committee questioned the purpose of the closures and sought to understand if cost or service redesign was the dominant factor. It was highlighted that of a total 110 closures across England, two closures in one borough appeared disproportionate, particularly given levels of deprivation in parts of Brent. Discussing the measures in place to mitigate transport costs, the committee noted the contradiction between the broadening of the Job Centre offer described, and the assertion that some users were not required to regularly attend the Job Centre. It was queried how accessible the online consultation process had been for vulnerable groups accessing services at the affected job centres.

 

Members raised questions regarding the outreach projects jointly funded by the council and the DWP. It was queried how long DWP funding was committed for and whether the programmes had been developed in conjunction with the planned closures. A member expressed doubt regarding the success of the project for the St Raphael’s estate and highlighted that changes required long-term commitment of funding.

 

The committee sought clarity regarding the scrutiny mechanisms in place for the DWP and questioned whether the DWP would be open to more local scrutiny and information sharing with Brent Council. Members requested a breakdown of the overall DWP budget for Brent and queried if this exceeded Brent’s budget for similar services. Councillor Mashari, as Chair of the Task Group on Food Banks, sought commitment from the DWP to exploring and progressing the recommendations of the task group report. 

 

In response, Anu Bilon advised that the DWP was reviewing its portfolio of properties across the whole of the UK. The number of sites would be reduced from 900 to 790 to create larger sites with a greater concentration of staff. It was confirmed to the committee that no staff were being made redundant as a result of the closures. These changes would enable the DWP to deliver the requirements of the service going forward by ensuring resources were sited in the right location. Equality analysis impact assessments had been completed and included in the update report provided to the committee. Anu Bilon assured members that the closure of the two Job Centres would not result in a reduced level of support to Brent’s residents and highlighted that the DWP would be expanding outreach services. The decision had been taken to close the sites at Willesden and Kilburn following a review of a range of evidence including the equality impact assessments, the lease terms and suitability of the buildings for further expansion. It was clarified that different conditions applied for  the subsiding of transport costs depending on the benefit being claimed. The online consultation was undertaken nationally but all affected claimants had been kept informed of the proposals.

 

With regard to the joint funding of outreach programmes, Anu Bilon advised that the aim of the DWP was to ensure that the relevant employment and skills support was provided. It was not possible to anticipate the longer term funding decisions of the government however funding had been committed for the next few years. Commenting on the St Raphael’s estate project, Anu Bilon highlighted that it would take time to build a rapport with the community. Matthew Dibben (Head of Employment, Skills and Enterprise) advised that a lot of positive learning, as well as positive employment outcomes had been achieved from the trial. It was agreed that further information would be shared with the committee to illustrate these positive outcomes. Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills) emphasised that the council was working hard to engage residents and build trust.

 

Anu Billon confirmed that the DWP was subject to scrutiny from senior managers and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The request to engage further with Brent’s scrutiny function was in principal welcomed and would be discussed with colleagues in the DWP. It was confirmed that the DWP’s national budget, including benefits, was over £1billion, with £1.7 million spent on employment programmes across London. A breakdown of the DWP’s budget for Brent would be provided to the committee following the meeting. It was not possible, however, to compare the budgets of the DWP and the relevant services of Brent Council as these had different remits and responsibilities. The employment programmes jointly funded by the DWP had been developed in response to local need. Councillor Tatler emphasised the council’s commitment to meeting the needs of Brent’s residents who required employment support.

 

The Chair thanked Anu Bilon and the officers for their contribution to the meeting.

 

RESOLVED: That the update report from the DWP and the report from the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment regarding employment and employability in Brent be noted.

 

 

 

 

 

Supporting documents: