HUNDREDS of civil servant jobs could be moved out of Darlington following a Department of Education review, The Northern Echo can confirm.
Staff were told this morning the Department of Education’s (DoE) site at Mowden Hall would be vacated, and alternative accommodation found in the North-East for the DoE’s 400 staff there.
A letter from the DoE to Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, received today (November 13) said they expected the new site to be found in either Newcastle or Darlington.
Staff at Mowden Hall, who deal with education policy, are being relocated because the building is in a poor state of repair and would require significant investment if staff were to remain there.
If the DoE decides to relocate staff to Newcastle, it would end an historic link of 46 years with Darlington, with community leaders calling it a “potential jobs disaster” for the town.
The move is being made as part of a wider review which could see DoE sites across the country reduced from 12 to six.
A consultation with staff has been launched and a decision on the plans is expected by March next year.
Mowden Hall is also home to 300 workers employed by Capita to process pensions for the DoE. It is not yet clear if the company has any plans to move, although The Northern Echo understands the company will also be consulted on the proposals.
Mrs Chapman, along with Darlington Borough Council, have backed The Northern Echo’s Save Our Jobs campaign to keep the 400 jobs in the town.
The MP, Council Leader Bill Dixon and council chief executive Ada Burns will meet with representatives from the DoE next week to discuss the proposals.
Plans to move staff out of Mowden Hall were initially mooted before the General Election, with the former Labour Government planning to build new accommodation for staff as the cornerstone of the Darlington town centre Feetham’s development, which was also set to feature a new cinema and leisure complex.
But these plans were scrapped when the coalition Government came to power in 2010, and initiated a review of public spending.
Mrs Chapman, who has pledged to work with the DoE to try to ensure the jobs remain in Darlington, received a letter from Permanent Secretary Chris Wormald today informing her of the proposals.
After the plans to relocate Mowden Hall to Feethams fell through in 2010, she met with DoE representatives to show them alternative sites in the town, including business park Lingfield Point, which is already home to The Student Loans Company.
She told The Northern Echo: “This is a potential jobs disaster for Darlington.
“These are long-standing, highly skilled jobs, which are often done by people who have worked there for many years, and who have made their lives here in Darlington or the surrounding area.
“To remove these jobs would have a long-term and significant impact on life in the town.”
She said the DoE should consider that there was both a skilled workforce in Darlington, and at least two alternative locations in the town which would accommodate the civil service’s requirements.
“We have to make a serious case as to why these jobs should stay.
“We have a got the workforce, we have got some great landlords, we have got the support of the council. It would be ridiculous not to put that all together and keep the jobs here.”
Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, echoed Mrs Chapman’s words.
“We are committed to keeping these jobs in Darlington.
“We know there are other sites in Darlington which can accommodate them – there is Lingfield Point, on the edge of town, and Northgate Tower, at the Northgate-St Cuthbert’s Way roundabout.
“Losing these jobs would be very bad news for Darlington – they are highly skilled, long-term jobs and losing them would be a great disadvantage both to the economy and to the people in Darlington.”
Robbie Faulds, the Public and Commercial Services Union’s education group spokesman, said if the office was moved to Newcastle, members would be severely impacted.
“It is disappointing that they seem to be considering this plan to move to Newcastle,” he said.
“As a union, I think we will be strongly pressing the process for the jobs to remain in Darlington. It is a huge issue.”
He said the impact of a move would be felt most by workers who had either young families, or older people to care for.
The Northern Echo understands the DoE proposal to relocate the Mowden Hall civil servants will not affect plans for the Free School special school, known as The Education Village Project, to be located at the Mowden Old Hall building and plans to open in September next year.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Department for Education has conducted a review into how it can best deliver the Government’s priorities quickly and well, while minimising costs to the taxpayer.
“We will target our staff time and money on only our top priorities, cutting red tape and concentrating on the work that adds the most value. We are reducing our head count and merging offices to reduce the cost of our buildings.
“The Department for Education is committed to retaining an office in the North-East, where we have over 400 skilled and experienced staff.
“Our current office (Mowden Hall in Darlington) requires significant investment and we have today explained to our staff that we are actively considering alternative accommodation options in the North-East. We will continue this conversation with our staff and anticipate further decisions will be made by Easter 2013.”