MP Mark Menzies is demanding answers over what the future holds for Fylde’s Job Centre.
A planning application lodged with Fylde Council suggesting that the Job Centre at Westmorland House in St Annes could be replaced by residential apartments prompted Mr Menzies to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
Priti Patel, Minister of State for Employment, replied that the Department for Work and Pensions is “in the process of reviewing all of its estates requirements as the current contract for most of the estate comes to an end in March 2018” adding “commercial negotiations are underway at this time and consequently it is not appropriate to comment on any sites”.
But Mr Menzies says that reply is not good enough and is demanding further clarification of the situation - for the sake of the 31 staff at the site in Orchard Road and the people all over Fylde, and in some cases even from parts of Blackpool, who regularly visit to seek employment and register for and claim benefits.
The application, which is set to go before Fylde councillors shortly, says it is “prior notification for change of use of Westmorland House from office to 25 residential apartmemts” - but when asked by the Express what the future is for the Job Centre, a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said it knew nothing of the application and that as far as the Department was concerned, it was ‘business as usual’ at St Annes.
The Job Centre has been at Westmorland House since 2004, having previously occupied a site in St George’s Road which is now part of the Aldi supermarket development. Before that, it was a Benefits Agency building.
It covers Universal Credit matters for all qualifying FY8 postcode residents along with those from rural Fylde who have postcodes of PR4 followed by 1, 2 and 3.
It also supplies other benefits to qualifying residents of those areas along with certain sections of the FY4 postcode in Blackpool.
The DWP spokesman said there are currently just over 700 Job Centres across the UK, with the nearest to St Annes at Tyldesley Road and Queen Street in central Blackpool and Preston city centre.
It was in answer to a supplementary question from Mr Menzies in the Commons that the Minister revealed that 31 people currently work at Westmorland House, whose working patterns, said Ms Patel, “equate to 26.48 whole time equivalents”.
Mr Menzies said: “I recently read that an application had been submitted to build flats on the Westmorland House site and wanted to find out more about what the department plans to do with that facility.
“I therefore submitted a Parliamentary question to the Minister but unfortunately received a pretty poor response.
“It stated that a review of all DWP estates is underway as contracts are up for review in 2018 and it would be inappropriate to provide further details while that process is taking place.
“That isn’t good enough for me as this planning application has put proposals in the public domain which I am sure will be concerning for the 31 people who work at the site and the many clients who use those services every day.
“I will be going back to the Minister this week to seek further clarification.”
Arnold Sumner, co-ordinator of St Annes Chamber of Trade, brought up the issue at the latest meeting of the Chamber, saying: “It is worrying to see that an application has been made to build flats on the site of the Job Centre and it is concerning that there is consequent uncertainty about what the future holds for such an important service.
“We look forward to hopefully finding out more in due course.”