By Claire West

The plan confirmed by the communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles to axe the government's regional offices is an attempt to grab more power for Westminster, the Public and Commercial Services union says.

Far from supporting the coalition government's 'localism' agenda, the announcement seriously undermines it. Staff in the Government Offices had already been approached to advise on how localism could operate, drawing on their expertise in co-ordinating the work of 13 government departments and their role in delivering central government services and policy locally.

The union accused Mr Pickles of failing to explain how his plan will save money and says it is more likely it will actually cost more through increased duplication of work and procurement of services.

At a meeting with the trade unions yesterday, Mr Pickles declined to make the case for closure, failed to challenge or debate the arguments the unions put forward, and gave no indication an announcement would be made today - in fact saying he needed "time to reflect".

The eight Government Offices outside London - which was already earmarked for closure - together employ 1,700 people, and provide an important channel for local authorities to influence and question Whitehall and to ensure government departments' aspirations are realistic, reflect local circumstances and do not duplicate or conflict with other departmental activity.

An Ipsos Mori survey of stakeholders in March this year found 77% of respondents were satisfied with the Government Offices, putting them in the top 25% of all public sector organisations in terms of users' perceptions.

News of their proposed closure comes as the government is also planning to abolish Regional Development Agencies, which provide significant opportunities for investment in local and regional economies.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "In the same week the government makes great play of strengthening local communities, Eric Pickles announces a power-grab that will hand more control to Westminster. We're not talking about another tier of regional government here, we're talking about ensuring central government has a regional accent.

"This decision has been taken at a political level, with no consultation and no thought for the effect and cost of the essential regional services these offices provide. We do not believe it is necessary and we will fight it along with the devastating cuts being proposed elsewhere."