DWP bosses have called off all face-to-face meetings with jobseekers in Scotland’s most populous region after the Covid alerts closed several centres.

Earlier this month The National revealed how Work and Pensions ministers planned to bring more out-of-work Scots into Jobcentres despite the UK-wide increase in positive coronavirus cases.

Health and safety officers were asked to make preparations for more in-office meetings with jobseekers in a move which prompted anger from the PCS union and was described as “inhumane” by a whistleblower.

Now all in-person meetings have been suspended across central Scotland amidst continuing health fears.

The news, which covers Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran and Forth Valley health board areas, follows a raft of centre closures across Glasgow. Deep cleans were ordered in Shettleston, Springburn and at Atlantic Quay offices after infections concerns were reported to managers. Sites at Newlands and Laurieston have also been affected.

The city’s David Linden MP and Bob Doris MSP are amongst those to call on the service to keep staff safe and “communicate clearly” over operations during the pandemic following concerns about the withholding of information from local politicians.

The planned in-person push was to focus on support claimants in the 18-to-24 age category, it is understood, and staff were told they’d have the discretion to continue remote sessions with all but the most vulnerable people following meetings between managers and union leaders.

The National: David Linden has urged the DWP to keep staff safeDavid Linden has urged the DWP to keep staff safe

Now DWP head Peter Schofield has suspended all face-to-face “customer engagement” in central Scotland.

In a memo sent to staff on Tuesday and seen by The National, Scholfield outlines new rules for high risk areas in the UK, saying: “Following the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire being placed in the ‘very high’ Covid alert level, we have suspended all face-to-face customer engagement across all sites in these areas.

“Jobcentres will remain open to help and support any customer who presents in need of face-to-face support and where they cannot be supported by any other channel.”

He goes on: “These changes will apply immediately to other areas should they also be placed in the ‘very high’ Covid alert level.

“The Scottish and Welsh governments have not introduced a tiered system of local alert levels but we are treating the ‘circuit break’ restrictions recently placed on the Central Scotland area as a ‘very high’ Covid alert.”

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A whistleblower said: “There’s been no notice as to how long this suspension will last.”

DWP staff were designated as key workers at the outset of the pandemic. Since then, they’ve worked to process an unprecedented spike in new Universal Credit claims as those hit by the rapid downturn in the economy seek social security to keep them afloat.

But there has been concern among the Scots workforce about the continued need for staff to work in offices instead of through remote systems.

The DWP says it is doing everything it can to protect health and safety.

In his message, Schofield states that while face coverings are voluntary for teams in England and Wales, they “must now be worn in workplace canteens and other communal workplace areas such as corridors” in Scotland.

Noting the DWP’s role as “the safety net for society”, he told staff: “Your safety and the safety of our customers is paramount. Our offices are Covid-secure and anyone coming into our offices should feel confident that they are safe.”

The UK Government and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have come under pressure in recent weeks as concerns about the impact of ongoing restrictions on the economy grow.

Earlier this month research published by former prime minister Gordon Brown’s Alliance for Full Employment suggested the number of out-of-work younger Scots could reach around 100,000 this winter.

The prediction refers to those aged 16-24 and the total is more than double the current level of 44,000. Brown said the “breakdown in relationships” between Downing Street, devolved governments and English regions could hamper efforts to tackle the crisis.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the country is “dealing with an economic emergency” as far back as June. The number of people in receipt of unemployment benefits has more than doubled in the past year and redundancies have reached their highest level since 2009.