I understand the Welsh Government will consider this week a plan to close some of its 28 offices across the country. The cabinet will be discussing an ‘options paper’ with the aim said to be to ‘reduce occupancy costs’ by 35%.
The government’s spent a lot of money in recent years on new buildings in Llandudno Junction, Aberystwyth and Merthyr Tydfil. My understanding is that the plan would see more work from smaller offices transferred in future to fill empty capacity in those three larger bases.
The Welsh Government has confirmed that it is looking at where its operations are based. A spokesperson said,
We remain committed to providing a dispersed presence across Wales, but we are currently reviewing our location needs.
Unions fear that staff currently employed in, say Llandrindod Wells or Newtown, will be expected to relocate to Aberystwyth, a considerable journey away. There are also political concerns about the effect closures will have on the communities the offices are based in.
Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales Simon Thomas said:
Anyone aware of the geography of mid Wales will know that commuting to work over significant distances isn’t quick, easy, cheap or environmentally friendly.
The continued rhetoric we’ve had from Labour over the past months is that they are ‘standing up for Wales’ but it seems that once again they need reminding that this means ALL parts of Wales. They can’t hide behind or blame Westminster for decisions on issues like this – it’s their decision to take.
Plaid Cymru will now be calling for urgent clarity from the Welsh Government on this issue.
We’ll be asking exactly what discussions have taken place so far regarding potential relocations of jobs and seeking immediate assurances that any further discussion will fully involve staff and unions in these devolved offices.
We’ll be calling for assurances that no compulsory redundancies will take place and that any changes will consider the effect that the clousures could have on both the employees and the local economies of these areas.
The full list of offices:
Dolgellau; Bangor; Caernarfon; Holyhead; Llandudno Junction; Mold; St. Asaph; Wrexham; Aberystwyth; Brecon; Crickhowell; Llandrindod Wells; Newtown; Swansea; Carmarthen; Haverfordwest; Milford Haven; Bedwas; Bridgend; Caerphilly; Cardiff; Ebbw Vale; Merthyr; Mountain Ash; Nantgarw; Newport; Pontypool; Treforest.
UPDATE 1700 Monday 3rd July
A Welsh government spokesman insisted the paper containing this proposal wasn’t on the agenda for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
But I’m told the paper clearly shows its intended for discussion at cabinet at some stage in the near future.
Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones has added her voice to concerns saying that this plan has been considered before:
In government we were aware that the civil service were looking at this but we made it a no-go area. We said no this shouldn’t be happening and that the Government should only be looking to devolve jobs from the centre, from Cardiff, to the regions. It looks now as though the Welsh Labour Government is looking to reverse on that policy.
And the PCS union has raised the possibility of strike action, if – and it’s a big if – workers are put in impossible positions by having their jobs transferred many miles away. The union’s Peter Harris said,
I hope it won’t result in strike action because ministers haven’t made any decisions yet. I hope when they see the report they’ll see the sense of keeping these offices open. But clearly if we had unwelcome compulsory redundancies, it could result in industrial action. We do have a mandate for that.
I’m told the proposals will be discussed by the cabinet on the 26th July. A Welsh Government spokesman wouldn’t confirm or deny that, saying ‘we don’t comment on future cabinet agendas or papers.’