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Civil Service relocation plans lack detail and evidence base say MPs

27 July 2023

The Government’s plans to relocate the Civil Service away from London and open new regional offices, one of its flagship ‘levelling up’ programmes, lacks detail and clear justification, according to a new report published today.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report finds it “striking” that the Cabinet Office has published so little information on the design and rationale of its Civil Service relocation programme.

The Cabinet Office is instead withholding key measurements for success and exaggerating its achievements, making it difficult for the public and Parliament to accurately judge whether the Government is on track to reach its targets under its ‘Government Hubs’ and ‘Places for Growth’ programmes.

As part of its 2022 property strategy, the Government has plans to relocate 22,000 posts out of London by 2030, reduce the proportion of Senior Civil Service posts in London to 50%, and open around 30 new regional ‘Hubs’, while closing older offices around the UK.

Economic losses in towns where offices are axed should be analysed by the Cabinet Office, the report says, as well as the benefits in areas hosting new Hubs. MPs are concerned that the Government is not paying enough attention to the impacts of relocation, both to local economies and Civil Service workplace culture.

Chair comment

Commenting on the report, PACAC Chair William Wragg MP said:

“The lack of consistency in relation to relocating Civil Service jobs reveals a vagueness at the heart of a key plank of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. The Cabinet Office has failed to provide a clear account of why certain functions are located where they are, and how relocation and regional hubs will benefit local communities across the country, if at all.”

“While the Government appears to be making steady progress towards its targets and has a number of successes to point to, we have concerns with how those targets were originally arrived at and how progress has been framed thus far. There is evidence to show that, since 2010, Civil Service jobs have been created in London faster than anywhere else in the country, with a net decrease of Civil Service jobs created elsewhere in the UK.

“The Government’s latest plans have involved closing long-established regional offices, which can have hard-hitting impacts on local communities. This flies in the face of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. We need greater transparency and accountability of what seems to be a haphazard approach to reforming the Government’s estates and its workforce.”

Other key recommendations

  • To increase the impact and rationale of each regional hub, Government should coordinate local outreach work and improve its understanding of local needs. 
  • Provide a statement clearly outlining the scope of planned civil servant headcount reductions, how often civil servants work in the office, and the impact this will have on departments’ office space needs.  
  • Publish within six months an analysis of the economic losses in towns where offices are shut down, as well as the predicted benefits in areas where new hubs will open. 
  • Publish details on how recruiting staff to regional offices will lead to tangible policy differences. 
  • Ministers should either meet the commitment to spend significant time working in regional offices or issue an accurate statement of what ministers can actually commit to. 
  • The Government Property Agency should review and publish within 12 months the “value for money” of the service it provides to departments in return for charging rent. 

Further information

Image credit: Tyler Allicock / UK Parliament