DWP is the largest government department, administering benefits and pensions as well as helping people into work. Already, 90 per cent of my staff work outside of London on the front line, right across the country – from the Shetland Islands to Penzance, from Hull to Holyhead.
We also have large sites and corporate hubs in several towns and cities including Blackpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.
So when the Prime Minister called on Ministers to establish a second headquarters outside of the M25, I was spoilt for choice. But where to choose for our second HQ?
Recognising we would be gaining a sense of perspective away from the Westminster bubble, in addition to our experiences as Parliamentarians, Ministers were keen to be at a well-established hub with all the levers of the civil service already up and running and well placed to be a springboard; Leeds was clearly the leading candidate for us.
With the M62, M1 and A1(M) all converging around the Leeds City Region, connecting the Northern Powerhouse from west to east and linking cities in the north and south, Leeds seemed a natural choice as both a gateway to the rest of the Northern Powerhouse and as a springboard to reach the whole of the country.
It is not just about connectivity.
From Quarry House, Leeds, we already run core services including digital, HR, finance, policy and operations. We also have seven jobcentres in the city, including the now famous Southern House otherwise known as The Yorkshire Jobcentre from last year’s Channel 4 documentary.
Anyone who watched that programme will have seen the wonderful work of that team and their focus on the individuals who needed help from us - from 61-year-old Karen who found a job in retail thanks to support from her Work Coach Amah; to sofa-surfing Gaz who gets help from Becky and Pip to explore a job in sports coaching.
It is because of people like Amah, Becky and Pip that I call us the Department of Wonderful People. That is why I also want Quarry House to be thought as the People’s Palace, not the Kremlin.
In delivering our services and support to our customers in all our communities across the country, we aim to be compassionate, considered and competent. More decisions will be being made from Leeds, as all our ministers will be spending regular time in Quarry House, there is a lot to do and Leeds is a great place to do it.
We went into the pandemic with record-high employment. At the heart of our recovery is helping people get back into and progressing in decent work through our Plan for Jobs.
For example, we have already created 150,000 jobs through our flagship Kickstart scheme, which is helping young people take their first step on the career ladder; we have supported 40,000 people through SWAPs – our sector-based work academy programme – helping them move into surging sectors; and with an additional 10,000 Work Coaches recruited so far, we are on track to have an extra 13,500 by the end of the month.
Whether you are a young woman in Wakefield getting a Kickstart job to take your first step into work; or a middle aged man in Malton who uses a SWAP to change direction and move into a new job in construction, our strengthened Jobs Army is taking on the baton from our amazing Jabs Army and will be there to provide support.
Day by day, jab by jab, job by job, we are helping get people’s lives back to normal and back into work. As we do, we are rebuilding, revitalising and regenerating our economy to build a brighter future for Britain.
Thérèse Coffey is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
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