Officials have told MSPs they are unable to provide assurances on the future of eight Jobcentre branches in Glasgow.
Neil Couling, the universal credit director general at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), conceded at Holyrood’s social security committee that it is keeping its cards close to its chest.
The DWP is renegotiating leases for around 1000 buildings across the UK as a 20-year property deal comes to an end, Couling said, prompting the department to look at the future of some sites.
When asked if that meant there could be more closures put forward, the DWP’s Scotland work services director Denise Horsfall said all arrangements had not yet been concluded.
Labour’s Mark Griffin asked: “You said you are in a process of renegotiating across the whole of the UK, you’ve completed that in Glasgow and that is why you’ve been able to bring forward these proposals.
“Are we going to see similar proposals coming forward in Lanarkshire, Falkirk, Lothians and right across Scotland for similar closures?”
Ms Horsfall said: “I’d love to sit here and say I can assure you about the rest of the sites in Scotland, but I can’t as of today.
“We will know hopefully by the end of February or March at the latest where we are with every single site across the UK. But I don’t know, I can’t tell you today.”
The proposals outlined for Glasgow will move Castlemilk and Langside Jobcentres into Newlands Jobcentre; Parkhead, Easterhouse and Bridgeton will move to Shettleston Jobcentre; Anniesland will move to Partick Jobcentre; Maryhill will move to Springburn Jobcentre, and Cambuslang will move to Rutherglen Jobcentre.
The city currently has a total of 16 Jobcentres but the plans will reduce that to eight.
Ms Horsfall stressed to MSPs: “The principle is very much about trying to be reasonable about the amount of distance between sites that people have to travel.”
Couling had already told the committee the DWP had signed a 20-year deal for its properties in 1998.
With leases due to end in 2018, he added the department has been negotiating with “a very large number of landlords”.
He said: “That’s a very complicated commercial discussion and because of some of the commerciality about that it is very difficult to do in an open forum.
“Our general view of things, 20 years on, is we were paying over the odds for accommodation we are in. We also wanted to take some opportunities to try to co-locate with some local authorities.
“But if the landlords knew what we were doing in location X, they could work out what we were doing in location Y. So, cards were kept very close to our chest for those reasons.”
Conservative MSP for Glasgow Adam Tomkins told him: “I’m sorry but that excuse doesn’t stack up given the well-established procedures we have for dealing with those sorts of questions.
“I understand the concerns about commercial confidentiality but this parliament has well-established ways in which governments can communicate with parliamentarians under conditions of strict confidence that enable us as elected representatives to understand, in advance, the thinking that government does.”
Couling replied: “It’s quite a complicated picture to lay out what is going on for everybody in the middle of those negotiations.
“I’m not trying to hide behind the argument that it is very complicated – but it is quite complicated.
“I don’t think you should infer a lack of a desire to talk or consult from from that, it is just quite a tricky thing to do.”