FEARS of mass job losses across the North East erupted yesterday after the Government’s biggest department announced plans to slash 12,000 staff because of spending cuts.
Unions and MPs attacked the move by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and stressed the need to protect the 13,400 staff employed in the region, including 2,000 at Longbenton on Tyneside, and thousands of others in 47 jobcentres dotted around the North East.
And ministers were warned they must take into account the wider economic impact that DWP cuts could have on the region amid fears of potential jobs losses at Northern Rock as the bank undergoes restructuring following nationalisation.
The news came after Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell outlined plans to hand the private firms and voluntary groups a bigger role in helping the jobless, but failed to mention the job cuts outlined in his department’s three-year business plan published yesterday.
TUC regional secretary Kevin Rowan said unions had always been concerned about demands by Gordon Brown to reduce the number of public sector workers, and the consequent impact on services and growing pressure on remaining staff.
“The strategy to cut more jobs is one that clearly brings some anxiety with it and I only hope the DWP tries to work very progressively with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) in order to minimise the impact of any job losses,” said Mr Rowan.
Senior Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said: “Clearly, there will be questions asked about North East jobs and we need to know what the impact will be. Given that we are in a situation where we are expecting job losses at Northern Rock, significant further jobs losses would hit Newcastle very hard,” added the Liberal Democrat councillor.
Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell said he was “very disappointed” there could be more job losses on top of any at Northern Rock, while Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the region should resist any DWP cuts.
Mr Anderson said the region could “ill-afford” any more job losses and hit out at previous reductions made by the DWP and other Whitehall departments.
The PCS union condemned the job cuts and claimed the DWP would be closing 200 offices, including jobcentres, in England and Wales.
With 30,000 jobs already gone over the past three years and over 600 offices closed in the DWP, the union expressed its “deep concern” of the impact that further cuts will have on service delivery and morale of workers.
A DWP spokesman yesterday said: “The Department has already reduced its staffing by 30,000 over the past three years without any significant compulsory redundancies. We are confident that, in the great majority of cases, the further reductions announced today will not mean anyone leaving the department who wants to stay.”
“There is no link between today’s announcement on commissioning and the job forecast in the department’s plan.”
A spokesman added it was still too early to say how job reductions would affect different regions.
DWP Secretary James Purnell described jobcentres as “world class” and said productivity was up by 11%.
DWP permanent secretary Leigh Lewis said the Government’s spending settlement had imposed greater demands than ever before. The DWP must cut its spending by 5% in each of the next three years, delivering savings of more than £1.2bn by 2011 and increase productivity by more than 20%.
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