LABOUR'S election hopeful has been slammed for condemning Tory "plans" to close district Jobcentres - as a Government department this week announced that Stourport Jobcentre was in line to be axed.

Marc Bayliss, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for the next general election, was sending out an "odd message" by claiming the Tories would shut both Stourport and Kidderminster Jobcentres, said his Conservative election rival, Mark Garnier.

The Government's Department for Work and Pensions said Stourport Jobcentre, in Bridge Street, was facing closure because it was not suitable for a hi-tech programme to overhaul Jobcentres nationwide.

Mr Garnier said: "It is a very odd message -'we are going to close it - if you let the Tories in they are going to close it anyway'."

Mr Bayliss said the plans for Stourport were being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions - DWP - outside of Government interference but Mr Garnier said: "At the end of the day, the Government has to take responsibility for what happens with all agencies. The DWP is a Government department and, if it is cutting Jobcentres, the Government has to take responsibility for that."

He also denied the Tories would close Kidderminster and Stourport Jobcentres. He said the party would privatise the service to ease the burden on the taxpayer.

A statement from the DWP said a "flexible service delivery" point would be provided in the town as the Bridge Street building could not be revamped for the Jobcentre Plus scheme, which uses computers that require extensive cabling.

The changeover will happen in 2007. The options for Stourport include installing a computer in a public place to provide job information, a free phone line and home visits.

Mr Bayliss said: "They are not talking about closing - they are talking about relocating the Jobcentre and maybe embedding it with another public service, perhaps in the library or Civic Centre."

He added the "same service" would remain in Stourport. Changes were an "operational issue" for the DWP, he said.

He explained: "The important point is that, irrespective of the Stourport office, which is vital in my view, the Tory proposal is to do away with the service altogether."