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Future of Government offices to be examined in new Committee inquiry

21 October 2022

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee launches an inquiry to scrutinise the Government’s property strategy and how it is planning for the future of work.

Scope of the inquiry

The inquiry will examine the impact of the Government’s levelling up commitment to build a larger presence in the regions and nations by moving 22,000 Civil Service jobs out of London by 2030. The Government has already relocated jobs to new headquarters in Glasgow, Darlington, Wolverhampton and elsewhere to “work closer with the communities it serves”. The Committee will scrutinise the impact of the closure of smaller offices and opening of large regional hubs on civil servants, local communities, and economic regeneration.

The Committee will examine how the Government is adapting its office space and strategy to its policy of reducing civil service numbers by almost 100,000 people, especially following reports that the target to achieve this reduction by 2025 has changed under Liz Truss’s leadership.

How the Government is considering Covid-19-related changes to working practices, diversity of the civil service, and environmental sustainability of buildings in its strategic estate planning will also be examined.

The inquiry will scrutinise both the Government Estates strategy 2018, and an update published in August 2022 by the former Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Chair of PACAC, William Wragg MP, said:

“The estates strategy involves huge sums of public money and has long-term implications for how essential services are delivered by public servants. Our inquiry will examine the Government’s progress on its targets to save costs and increase sustainability, civil service efficiency, and diversity.

“The Government’s strategy to move jobs out of London has the potential to uproot the lives and families of many. We will dig deeper into whether it really delivers benefits for regional communities and leads to a cultural change within the civil service.

“We are also interested in how the Government is grappling with the seismic shifts to working culture as we emerge from the shadow of Covid-19 and how it is taking this into account in its property planning.”

Terms of reference

The Committee invites written submissions answering any of the following questions:

The leadership role of the Cabinet Office and Government Property Agency  

  • How well is the Cabinet Office 'future-proofing' the Government estate strategy, so that it ensures it has the right office space, in the right geographical areas, to meet the needs of the Civil Service for years to come?  
  • How effectively are the Cabinet Office and its Government Property Agency leading the estates strategies of departments across government?  
  • What are the practical effects of the Government's charging its own departments a high level of imputed rent on the central London buildings that it owns as freeholder?  

Moving Civil Service posts out of London  

  • Is the Government on track to achieve its targets of moving 22,000 Civil Service posts, and 50% of UK-based Senior Civil Service roles, out of Greater London by 2030? What actions are needed to ensure these targets are met?  
  • What are the risks and opportunities of Civil Service relocation? What are the keys to ensuring it achieves good value for money?  

Regional hubs and the culture of the Civil Service  

  • What are the likely effects of relocating more Civil Service posts away from London on the diversity of thought and quality of policy-making within the Civil Service? How will it achieve these effects in practice?  
  • Where Civil Servants are working in regional offices, to what extent are they commuting from London or other cities, rather than living in the local community? Are regional offices attracting people to join the Civil Service who would not otherwise have done so? 
  • How successfully has HMRC implemented Phase 1 of the Government Hubs programme, and what have been the effects of moving from many local offices to a small number of regional hubs for: (a) the Civil Servants who work in them; and (b) the local communities in each case?  
  • How well is the estates strategy addressing Government objectives on sustainability and on advancing the diversity of the Civil Service?  

Adapting to new ways of working and policies on the size of the Civil Service  

  • What are the challenges and opportunities presented by the shift towards new working cultures (e.g. hybrid working), following the COVID-19 pandemic? To what extent is the Government successfully taking these developments into account in strategic estate planning?  
  • How well does the strategy take into account the implications of the policy of reducing the size of the Civil Service by almost 100,000 posts, and any subsequent updates to this policy?  

Learning lessons - from the past, the private sector, and abroad  

  • What lessons should the Government be learning from: 
  • Previous initiatives to rationalise the government estate and relocate Civil Servants (including decisions to close down regional offices, such as the closure of the regional network of Government Offices in 2010-11)?  
  • International examples from other governments which have transferred functions from one city to another and managed their property portfolios successfully?  
  • Ways in which private companies or other governments are relocating staff and adapting to the shift in working cultures towards hybrid and remote working?  

Guidelines for submitting evidence

The deadline for submitting evidence is 5pm, Wednesday 30 November.

Image: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock