Asbestos campaigner makes plea for Barrow service
A desperate plea to save a town's “vital service” was made to councillors this week.
Proposals to close the Department of Work and Pensions base in Phoenix House, Barrow - where some 80 jobs are at risk - have been met with uproar from many in the town.
Among the functions undertaken by staff at the Stephen Street location is fighting for families to claim compensation for those across the country living with asbestos-related illnesses.
Bob Pointer, chairman of Cumbria Asbestos Related Disease Support, addressed the full council meeting of Barrow Borough Council on Tuesday night and urged the council to show their support for the service.
He said: “It is a centre of excellence in Barrow, providing a fast-tracked response for asbestos victims.
“Over the years since we have witnessed the dedication and expertise as staff have assisted claimants.
“Those skills and expertise acquired by the Phoenix House staff over considerable time are being put at considerable risk. Skills and expertise are not learnt overnight but are lost overnight forever.
“Nothing has changed so why should it be relocated on the whim of a bean counter. It's not broken so does not need fixing.
Mr Pointer, who is now retired, believes the indiscriminate matters in which the office deals makes the service so important.
He said: ““Suffering from a disability, whether it's genetic, from an accident in the home, road traffic, or an industrial disease, is not a lifestyle choice.
“Neither is that unexpected diagnosis of a terminal industrial disease caused by exposure to asbestos.
“Asbestos diseases do not discriminate between social barriers, blue or white collar workers, management or scientist, rich or poor, famous or infamous.
“No-one here can say they will never require the services provided by Phoenix House.”
Mr Pointer asked the council to support Phoenix House by writing to the Secretary of State to fight for the future of the building.
He said: “Barrow has been neglected in the past. It cannot afford to revert back to those days.
“We do not need another stab in the back or kick where it hurts most, yet this appears to be par for the course.
“We do not ask for the Earth, only justice and a fair society.”
The leader of the council, Councillor Dave Pidduck, agreed to write to the Secretary of State on behalf of the house, with a number of councillors attending a protest in support of the house earlier this month.
He said: “These diseases are legacies of our industrial past.
“We have here an area with these incredible diseases that suddenly they want to move it on.
“They want to take away our vital service and it's a stab in the back.
Councillor Hayley Preston, who marched with Phoenix House staff, said: “It will be a devastating loss to our town.
The workers may be offered jobs in the service elsewhere but the nearest office will be in Blackpool. That's too far for the workers and the people in this town who need it.
“The workers at Phoenix House continue to support ill people and their families.”
Councillor Brendan Sweeney also spoke in favour of the office, saying: “This is a national service as well as a local one, providing help to people who have terrible problems in their lives which is bound to be disrupted by this.
“What financial savings will be made by this closure? It just doesn’t make financial sense.”