Almost 400 workers face an uncertain future amid plans to shut another civil service building on the Fylde coast.
Government plans to sell off Tomlinson House, at Norcross, have been branded ‘completely wrong’ by Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden.
Fears have been raised in Parliament that proposals to create a new civil service hub in the North West – and dispose of sites, including Tomlinson House, to free up space for housing – will mean the loss of experienced staff. The building is currently occupied by 376 staff working for Veterans UK – formerly the Veterans Association – which looks after military pensions.
Mr Marsden said: “These are good quality jobs in Blackpool and across the Fylde which we cannot afford to lose.”
The proposals are set out within the MoD’s ‘A Better Defence Estate’ document published last November which sets out a strategy for better efficiency in the running of the UK’s military.
And Mr Marsden, who is chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Veterans, met with union leaders from the PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union at Parliament to discuss their concerns.
He added: “The Government has done no assessment on what impact the closure and job losses of this scale will have on local areas like ours.
“Their intention to shut Veterans UK at Tomlinson House is more driven by an arbitrary cuts target rather than what is best to help our veterans.
“The staff at Norcross provide specialist support for thousands of ex-service personnel on a wide range of welfare related issues and that’s why it would be completely wrong to close it.”
It is proposed to replace Tomlinson House with a North West hub, but it is not known where in the region that could be.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys Conservative MP Paul Maynard, whose constituency includes Tomlinson House, said he hoped the Government would keep the jobs in Blackpool.
He added one option could be to create a hub in Blackpool town centre as part of the Talbot Gateway.
Mr Maynard said: “I know there has been a degree of concern over Tomlinson House and I have raised this with the relevant minister Mark Lancaster.
“I know government thinking is at a very early stage but I have urged them to work with Blackpool Council to see how their scheme might fit in with the civil service hub they have planned for the town centre.
“No-one wants to see these jobs leaving the Fylde and working together with the council we can ensure we find a home for these Government agencies here in the town centre.”
Mr Marsden has also raised the issue with the shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith as part of a recent Commons debate on the Armed Forces Covenant. Speaking in the debate, she said: “I am concerned that one of the sites that has been earmarked for closure is the Defence Business Services in Blackpool, which houses Veterans UK.
“All we are told in the Government’s publication is that the site will be replaced by a ‘Government Hub’ in the North West.
“If that ends up being beyond a reasonable commuting distance, for example Manchester, we risk losing experienced staff who have an expertise in supporting our veterans.”
As part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the MoD intends to reduce the size of its estate by 30 per cent by 2040.
It says by getting rid of sites it no longer needs, it will release land for 55,000 homes around the country.
Tomlinson House is part of Defence Business Services, which also includes a site in Liverpool that is also earmarked for closure in 2023 and relocation to the as-yet unspecified North West hub.
The MoD states in its ‘A Better Defence Estate’ document that wants to ‘ examine opportunities to increase the utilisation of core sites’ and ‘reduce expenditure on the number of leased sites’.
It will also ‘seek opportunities to move to more modern office infrastructure alongside other Government departments, which in turn will also provide further career opportunities for civilian staff’.
The next step, it adds, is to ‘identify appropriate Government Hubs while ensuring that we manage carefully these moves, in particular demonstrating the feasibility where there are a high number of expert non-mobile staff and sensitive technology assets that will be required to relocate’.
An MoD spokesperson said: “We don’t expect any jobs will be lost when Veterans UK moves in 2023, as all staff will be given the opportunity to work from their new, more modern and better equipped location.”
They added no decision had been made on a future location but “it is expected to offer better career prospects across Government as a ‘co-located hub’ with other departments in the North West.”
The spokesperson added that staff are fully aware of plans to vacate by 2023 and plans are being developed in consultation with trade unions.