Call to aid Ilfracombe unemployed

Joseph Bulmer

Council leader urges Jobcentre Plus to re-think service it provides to town in light of 150 per cent rise in Jobseeker Allowance claims

NORTH Devon Council leader Brian Greenslade has called for better facilities for jobseekers in Ilfracombe.

Cllr Greenslade criticised a decision by Jobcentre Plus to cancel its regular booking for an interview room at The Ilfracombe Centre, leaving only a computerised Jobpoint and telephone.

He said he felt “very strongly” that the move would have a “significant negative impact” on the town, which saw its High Street Jobcentre close in 2008 – one of eight offices to shut in Devon.

Cllr Greenslade said: “Ilfracombe is the most deprived community in Devon, with unemployment levels among the worst 10 per cent nationally. Therefore, I feel it’s vital that the services of Jobcentre Plus are reinstated in the town as a matter of urgency.”

Figures show that in April 2008, the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in Ilfracombe Central was 2.53 per cent. However, since then, the UK has moved into recession with significant numbers of job losses. This has seen unemployment levels in Ilfracombe Central rise to 6.66 per cent (March 2011), an increase of 150 per cent.

Figures for June fell to four per cent although the availability of seasonal work could account for this.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said the Government was providing alternative ways to help people find work through local initiatives such as The Work Programme, Working Links and The Westward Pathfinder Trust.

He said Jobcentre Plus would continue to book an interview room for job seekers as and when it was needed.

“The room we booked at the Ilfracombe Centre to provide services to vulnerable claimants has not been used for six months,” he said.

“We are prepared to rent a room on an ad hoc basis when needed.”

Cllr Greenslade said he was aware of the claims that the service wasn’t being used in the town but criticised staffing levels provided by Jobcentre Plus.

He said: “I understand that the demand for these services at The Ilfracombe Centre has existed and indeed has grown over the last three years, but that Jobcentre Plus has chosen not to provide the staff resourcing into Ilfracombe.”

The claim was backed up by Gary Smith, neighbourhood manager for Transform.

He said: “It’s a chicken and egg situation. Why would people go into an empty room?

“As far as I’m aware, the phone and Jobpoint are in constant use all day but the room was only ever staffed by an outreach worker off and on.

“The main issue here is about the withdrawal of front-facing support for people in rural areas.

“Is it good enough to expect unemployed people on �60 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance to keep paying �3.50 to travel to Barnstaple by bus?”

The council leader has urged Jobcentre Plus to now review their decision and has asked for the opportunity to discuss the matter in more detail with them.