Investment should not be wasted, says MP

Hilary Benn, then Secretary of State for the Environment, opening the Defra building in Alnwick in 2009.
Hilary Benn, then Secretary of State for the Environment, opening the Defra building in Alnwick in 2009.

MP Sir Alan Beith has paid a visit to the Defra offices at Lion House in Alnwick to hear staff concerns about the future of the site.

As reported by the Gazette in July, the Steria operation at Lion House is to close next year, with the loss of more than 20 jobs,

The staff are employed by Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL), which is part of Steria, a private company part-owned by the Government and set up to run civil service back-office functions. SSCL employs 23 staff at the site, while Defra has 24 workers who are not affected by this announcement.

However, there are concerns that if the SSCL operation closes in June 2015, the office buildings and site, which are owned by Defra, will no longer be financially viable for the remaining staff still employed by Defra. At the time of the jobs announcement, a Defra spokeswoman said: “The Defra staff will be staying there and the site will not be closing.”

Sir Alan said: “The Defra offices were constructed to a very high environmental standard just six years ago, with solar panels, rainwater harvesting and wind turbines providing much of the heat and power needed for the building. The offices cost nearly £5million to construct and are held up as a fantastic example of using technology to create buildings with low running costs and a low carbon footprint. The lifespan for the building was set at a minimum of 25 years.

“The bespoke file store inside the premises is vital for handling of older paper records from Government departments and agencies and would be very expensive to relocate or to provide from scratch at another site.

“I am very concerned that Defra does not realise the potential embarrassment which would arise if the building was taken out of use and left empty. Not only would valuable jobs be lost for the local community, making a mockery of Defra’s role as the department with responsibility for rural affairs, but the waste of money and effort which went into building these flagship offices just a few years ago.

“I am continuing to discuss the prospects for bringing further work from Defra and perhaps other Government departments to the excellent base we have here in Alnwick. The quality of the work carried out here by the teams is second to none and I will fight to keep these valuable jobs here in Alnwick.”

Fellow Lib Dem, Julie Pörksen, who is bidding to become Sir Alan’s successor, added: “I have had meetings with staff from Defra and SSCL about the long-term future of the Alnwick site

“It would be heart-breaking to see these talented members of staff lose their jobs when there is so much work which could be done here, and scandalous that the investment which has been made at Alnwick could be wasted. I am in discussions with Defra ministers to see how else we can secure a long-term future for this excellent facility.”