It is right to move more posts outside London but pay attention to the senior leadership roles—and the resources in Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandby Philip Rycroft / March 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
Coronavirus sweeps all before it. The government and civil service will be straining every sinew to deal with a scale of crisis that this country has not witnessed for many a long year. The concentric circles of officialdom dealing with the emergency centre tightly on the Cabinet Office in London and many of the officials leading the response will be within walking distance of 70 Whitehall.
This is no doubt efficient in a crisis. Whitehall is a meetings-driven culture and the clear preference is for face-to-face discussion. While attempts will be made to minimise the number of meetings during the current pandemic, the premium on being close by, during crises and through times of more normal business, is unlikely to dissipate soon.
So how will the civil service respond to yet another incoming government announcing that it intends to disperse more civil service jobs out of London? The projected number this time round is 22,000 over the next 10 years, a not inconsiderable proportion of the 80,000 or so civil servants currently based in the capital.
Most civil servants already work outside of London, about 350,000 of them. Why move more?
The most obvious reason is cost. London office space is expensive. Since the surge of new recruits to deal with Brexit, Whitehall is bursting at the seams. Moving staff out of London makes financial sense. It also allows the civil service to access a broader range of talent, including those whose family commitments and circumstance make living in London difficult.
Civil service jobs, while at most levels not desperately well-paid, are nevertheless broadly secure and can provide a steady anchor in a local jobs market. Getting civil service jobs into towns and cities less advantaged than London can serve a useful function in economic regeneration. Civil service training is well regarded and having a pool of experienced civil servants on hand in different parts of the country who might be tempted into the private sector is no bad thing.
So is that it? Modest financial and economic regeneration benefits, a useful PR exercise, but not much more? I hope not. There should be a wider purpose here which speaks to this government’s commitment to “levelling up” the country.
Despite the current dispersal of civil service jobs across the UK, the leadership remains…