Fears raised that 100 jobs are at risk as Portsmouth pension centre is to be closed by DWP
UNION officials have warned that more than 100 jobs are at risk following the announcement of the closure of a Cosham pension centre by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Roebuck House is due to be vacated by the department in the coming months ahead of the redevelopment of the building into dozens of flats by its landlord.
But the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said it had made 'no attempt' to consider alternative options to keep the centre, describing its decision to close as 'disgraceful' and a 'terrible loss to the local economy'.
The owner of the office block had plans to convert the building into 50 flats approved by Portsmouth City Council under prior approval rules at the end of August, meaning a full planning application process was not required for its redevelopment.
Caridon Holdings first put forward proposals in 2017 when the DWP, which had 215 employees based in the building at the time, also revealed it would close its operations there.
An April 2021 deadline had been set but this was shelved due to the need for extra staff during the pandemic.
However, at the beginning of last month, the department reconfirmed the closure in a move which union officials say could lead to the loss of more than 100 jobs.
PCS described the plans as 'disgraceful' and that the closure would have a negative effect locally but also on the department's ability to process pension claims.
It accused the DWP of 'hiding behind the excuse' that the landlord is redeveloping the building and said that 'no attempt' had been made to consider alternative options to keep operations in the city.
'The loss of 100 jobs will have a knock-on effect in the local Portsmouth economy,' its industrial officer Ian Bartholomew said. 'It is outrageous that the DWP is reducing its service to pensioners when there has been expansion in other areas and we do not accept management’s excuses for the closure.
'PCS will not take this decision lying down and we will now mount a vigorous campaign to defend this vital local service. We are not ruling out an industrial response, potentially including strike action.'
He also criticised the 'regressive planning laws' which have allowed the building's landlord to gain permission to redevelop the building.
The closure of the Cosham pensions centre was confirmed by a DWP spokesman.
'The landlord is redeveloping the site, so our office is closing,' they said. 'Our priority is to redeploy everyone and we’re consulting very closely with our colleagues at Roebuck House.'
Portsmouth City Council leader councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he was keen to work with union officials and MPs to try and keep pensions operations in the city.
'The government is shutting things left right and centre as part of its never-ending centralisation programme,' he said.
'I want to work with the union and our local MPs to work out what we can do to prevent the loss of these 100 important jobs from our city.'
A date for the closure of the offices has yet to be confirmed.