Job centre could make return to Uttlesford after 20 years

Job Centre

Job Centre - Credit: Archant

IT has been more than 20 years since Saffron Walden’s jobcentre closed because of budget cuts.

But now, after more than six months of fierce lobbying, there appears to be a ray of hope on the horizon for its return.

An MP and voluntary sector groups have backed a campaign aimed at persuading Jobcentre Plus to re-evaluate the need for a hub in the town.

Talks are ongoing with the interested parties – including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Uttlesford District Council.

DWP customer services operations manager for Braintree and Witham, Dave Cope, said discussions were in the early stages but the outcome would not result in a “fully-fledged jobcentre”.

He said: “We are currently having some initial conversations with Uttlesford District Council about the feasibility of bringing some sort of jobcentre service to Uttlesford, or specifically Saffron Walden.

“The intention is to co-locate with the district council or any other interested party in order to bring some services closer to people in the area.”

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MP Sir Alan Haselhurst was more optimistic about the matter.

“I would welcome the introduction of a jobcentre service in Uttlesford and I think it is going to happen unless there is some unforeseen difficulty,” he said, before adding that the outlook was positive for potential job seekers.

“The employment situation here is very favourable when compared to other places. We are in a job creation situation and the rise in employment is quite striking when compared to previous smaller inceases.”

Unemployment for May reached a record three-year low of 1.8 per cent – with 922 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Asked whether the figures would be altered by a jobcentre in Saffron Walden assisting those deterred by the Braintree commute, he replied it was “very hard to estimate” but “probably true”.

Instrumental in calling for change has been the Employment, Economic, Skills, Environment & Transport working group at the district council.

Janet Drysdale, the group’s independent chairwoman, said: “At the moment people are having to travel to Braintree to sign on which, although it is not impossible to get there, if you go by public transport it takes hours.

“To start with it may be a jobcentre is opened on a trial basis in somewhere like the town hall, library or Uttlesford District Council’s offices. If not enough people use it then it will be taken away again.

“Sometimes in quite an affluent area trying to get resources for those people who do have needs is quite difficult. People assume no-one in town has a struggle in life but that is not true.”

She said the lack of a jobcentre in the town was particularly impacting on young people.

Single under 25s are able to claim £56.80 a week but are required to sign on in Braintree once a fortnight – a bus journey that costs just under £10.

“Talking to the vocational co-ordinator for Uttlesford’s schools, the view is young people are often looked after by their parents and do not bother signing on in Braintree unless absolutely desperate,” Mrs Drysdale said.

“It becomes quite subjective when talking about how this affects unemployment figures because we don’t really know. It is a factor but we don’t know how big it is.”

Kelly Dorrington, social policy manager at Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau, believed the figures were skewed – saying “loads and loads” of young people had told the charity they were not signing on because of the cost of travel.

“We have had tons of youngsters refuse to jump through hoops to sign on because it is so difficult to get to Jobcentre Plus in Braintree. They are just not doing it,” she said.

“Having a jobcentre in Saffron Walden would make an absolutely immense difference in helping them find work.”

Former town clerk Malcolm White remembers the fuss made by Saffron Walden Town Council when the jobcentre, based on the high street, was closed and later moved to a room in the town hall.

This was stopped shortly after because of budget cuts but all signs point towards job seekers being given extra assistance in their search for employment.