The Government’s desire 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.
Our analysis shows that, despite bold ministerial commitments, ambitions to radically alter the footprint of the civil service are faltering. This is particularly true of market-facing parts of government, including economic departments, regulators and commercial functions. For example:
The evidence shows that moving civil servants to other regions could have a positive effect on growth and decision-making. Onward finds that previous relocations have generally had a “multiplier effect” on private sector jobs and growth in their destination location. This includes the Office for National Statistics, whose move to Newport from 2005 is often cited against relocation. Onward finds that, since the ONS move Newport has experienced a faster pace of knowledge-intensive jobs growth than cities including Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Birmingham.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands:
“The effort to redistribute civil service jobs has been vexatious for decades. However given the political commitment to “Levelling Up”, finding a way to do this well is now both urgent and important. Bringing together the brains of Departments with businesses in critical sectors, as has been done in the housing industry through DLUHC’s second HQ in Wolverhampton, is a model we need to see far more often. This report carefully describes just how much more is still to be done. It should be a real ‘call to action’.”
Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne:
“If levelling up feels like rowing against the tide, it’s because all the big decisions still happen in London. When places like Newcastle see ministers, it’s in hard hats for photo opportunities.
“We’ve proven that regional Mayors are good at creating jobs and landing investment. If we had ministers working here for a week every month, we’d finally be in touching distance of joined up government that can deliver levelling up. The proposal to have senior civil servants based in areas like the North of Tyne is sound. It’s better value for money for taxpayers – top quality office accommodation is a fraction of the price it is in London. Civil service relocation must include the top officials, not just the back-office admin staff.”
Miriam Cates, Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge:
“Where civil servants work matters to our economy and our culture. There is no practical reason why decisions about health spending or taxation need to be made in Whitehall and not in Sheffield. In fact, Government will make better decisions if those developing policy are exposed to the challenges of the entire country, rather than the issues that matter to London. We need to accelerate civil service relocation to support the Government’s ambitions to level up.”
Jo Gideon MP, Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central:
“This important report makes clear that there is still much work needed for government to deliver on its commitment to spread clusters of high level civil service jobs across the country. It illustrates that to rebalance the UK’s economic geography we must bridge the cultural differences and values between government decision makers and those affected by those decisions.
“Only by being based in areas of the country like Stoke-in-Trent with the biggest challenges can those making spending decisions hope to fully understand the impact of policies on those areas. Delivering equality of opportunity, one of the key pillars of the levelling up agenda, depends on the success of a fair, comprehensive relocation strategy.”
Peter Gibson MP, Member of Parliament for Darlington:
“As the MP for Darlington I am delighted that Treasury, DIT, BEIS, ONS and CMA are locating parts of their teams to Darlington in addition to the existing DFE roles in my constituency. Providing real opportunities to go far but stay local is a key element of our levelling up agenda and Darlington is quickly becoming a poster child for the revolution that our Government is implementing as we build back better. Good progress has been made, and this report shows how important it is that we redouble our efforts on this agenda.”
This report is part of Onward’s Levelling Up programme, which considers way to reduce the UK’s longstanding regional disparities and bring opportunity to places that have been left behind.
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