New research

Today we publish Time to Move Out: The Case for Civil Service Relocation. The report, co-authored by Onward’s Director, Will Tanner, and Deputy Director, Adam Hawksbee, finds that despite bold ministerial commitments, ambitions to radically alter the footprint of the civil service are faltering.

Onward’s Impact on the Levelling Up White Paper

Following the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper, we were delighted to see that it explicitly draws on Onward’s back catalogue of research, including references to seven research reports: Qualifying for the Race to Net Zero, Greening the Giants, Network Effects, The State of our Social Fabric, Making a Comeback, Levelling Up Growth Enhancing Spending and Turnaround.

The Levelling Up White Paper also announced a number of recommendations from previous Onward research reports, including:

  1. A commitment to spend a much greater share of R&D, cultural and transport funding outside London, as recommended in Levelling Up Growth Enhancing Spending
  2. A new objective to boost UKRI investment in innovation across the entire UK, as recommended in Levelling Up Innovation.
  3. The abolition of the 80:20 rule, which saw 80% of affordable housing funding go to London, as recommended in Levelling Up Growth Enhancing Spending
  4. Reforms to the private rented sector to give security to tenants, including a register of landlords, abolition of no fault eviction and minimum standards for rented properties, as recommended in The Policies of Belonging
  5. The introduction of regeneration deals between central government and local areas, as recommended in Turnaround
  6. The decision that schools in underperforming areas will be rebrokered using high performing multi-academy trusts and new Education Investment Areas established, as recommended in Lost Learning
  7. A greater role for parish and town councils, including a commitment that a share of the new infrastructure levy will remain local, as recommended in Double Devo
  8. Devolution of key powers to metro and county mayors, including spatial planning and adult education funding, as recommended in The Politics of Belonging
  9. A commitment to regularly publish information on the geographic impact of spending and tax decisions, as recommended in Levelling Up the Tax System.

Elsewhere, Director Will Tanner wrote for Conservative Home about why levelling up doesn’t just make political and moral sense, but economic sense too. He also spoke to GB News to discuss what he termed a ‘regeneration revolution’ in the UK, and was quoted in Politico, and The Times.

Adam Hawksbee wrote for Times Red Box about what we can learn from the regeneration of King’s Cross, and why levelling up must include the transformation of public land. He also went on Times Radio to talk about the Government’s ambitions. 

Will Tanner also shared his thoughts on the long and short-term reach of the levelling up white paper with FE News and the Guardian, and on how devolution is essential to levelling up to the BBC.

Also in the media this week

Last week, the Chancellor announced a Council Tax rebate for those living in bands A to D to help with the cost of living crisis. In our report Levelling Up the Tax System, we found that Council Tax is a regionally regressive tax. Head to our twitter thread to find out what this means for different parts of the UK. 

Will Tanner was quoted in a piece for The Times, arguing that fraud is a concern of millions of voters, and should be taken seriously by the Government.

Our report Making a Comeback was cited in an article for the Manchester Evening News, discussing what levelling up actually means for post-industrial communities. 

The Financial Times referenced our report, The State of our Social Fabric, making the case for local areas to be trusted to know what is needed to level up. 

FE News mentioned our Levelling Up Innovation report, that discusses ways to bridge the divide between university research and industrial commercialisation in an article exploring the different roads to levelling up. 

Following the announcement from workplace pension provider Now Pensions that they support the removal of the auto-enrolment earnings trigger, FT Adviser covered the benefits that these policies would bring.

Catch our Deputy Director Adam Hawksbee speaking at a panel for Centre for Cities, to reflect on the contents of the Levelling Up White Paper, and discuss what’s next. You can find more details on the event and sign up here.

Onward Note

Despite warm words and good intentions, ministers’ efforts to move civil servants out of London are going backwards. Today we publish our report Time to Move Out: The Case for Civil Service Relocation, which argues that the Government’s plan to “level up” economic opportunity and govern in the interests of historically left-behind areas is being undermined by slow progress in moving large numbers of civil servants out of Whitehall. We find a number of missed opportunities for real change.

adam hawksbee

There is a big opportunity to change civil service culture. The question of who makes policy decisions – and on whose behalf – is always important in politics. But the levelling up agenda, with its focus on place based renewal, makes this question even more important. And our research makes clear that civil service relocation is one way to ensure that government reflects different outlooks and priorities in different parts of the country. 

There is a particular opportunity to use market-facing departments to rebalance private sector incentives and jobs. Today, market-facing departments with the strongest levelling up potential are concentrated in the capital. More than 9 in 10 civil servants employed by HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy work in London. And since March 2021 BEIS and the Treasury have hired three times more civil servants in London than outside. 

Relocation can boost growth in local areas. The Office for National Statistics’ move to Newport in 2005 is an often cited case study against relocation, but since the move, Newport has experienced faster growth  in knowledge-intensive jobs than cities including Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Birmingham. 

The Government has made all the right noises on civil service relocation but now urgently needs to meet them with action. It is no coincidence that the UK’s economic imbalances have grown in lock-step with the concentration of civil service decision-making in London. The change has been a long time coming, with almost no change in the share of civil servants located in London in the last 45 years.

The pandemic has proved that officials do not rely on being in Whitehall to do their jobs, and a more dispersed civil service could support a more balanced economy. For London based civil servants, it’s time to move out. 

Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director of Onward
Policy Bites

The Chancellor has announced a cash boost for almost 28 million households to battle the cost of living crisis, with households being eligible for a £200-£350 discount in their energy bills. Link

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has launched a consultation with industry to make supply chains in the low carbon electricity sector more productive, efficient and competitive. Link

Ahead of the Domestic Abuse Strategy set to be published in the coming months, The Home Office has doubled funding dedicated to tackling perpetrators of domestic abuse related crime, to £25 million for 2021-22. Link

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News, analysis and comment from the Financial Times, the worldʼs leading global business publication
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