Relocating civil servants to the North 'will do little to level up', according to Institute for Government

Relocating civil servants out of London will do little to “level up” the North-South divide, a think tank has warned, as a Yorkshire metro mayor is expected to call on ministers to "end an act of national self-harm" and deliver "a full-scale transformation" of the region.
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The new Institute for Government report says that relocating civil servants can cost more than £40,000 per worker but is unlikely to achieve the hoped-for impact.

Published today, Moving Out: making a success of civil service relocation argues that although the Government is aiming to move some tens of thousands of policymakers by the end of the decade to "overlooked and hitherto undervalued communities" - including those that voted Leave in the 2016 European Union referendum - these are often smaller towns where departments could struggle to attract the staff needed to succeed.

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However, moving civil service jobs to cities out of London would allow it to access a much wider talent pool, says the report.


At the moment, the civil service is "not making full use of talented people who cannot or do not want to be based in the capital," said the institute.

It highlights that only 13 per cent of the UK’s population live in London, but around two thirds of policy and senior roles are based there.

Sarah Nickson, senior researcher at the Institute for Government said: “Relocations can be very expensive and disruptive, so the Government must have a clear sense of what it wants to achieve, how it will meet those goals, and whether the benefits justify the cost.

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"But moving departments to the places that offer the skills needed to staff them will do little to help the civil service understand deprived communities or the feeling behind the Brexit vote.

"And relocations would only make a small dent in the north-south divide.

"This is not the first time a Government has tried to relocate policy makers. But career incentives nudge civil servants towards staying put in London, where they can more easily access ministers and switch to other public sector jobs. The government should tackle this by making sure it builds up sizeable hubs in big cities and avoids creating isolated outposts.”

Ahead of the Government’s expected announcement of future moves, the report also recommends that government departments should: ensure that the labour markets in their chosen locations have the necessary skill base; build a "critical mass" of staff in each office and ensure, by offering opportunities for career progression, that relocated jobs attract highly skilled staff' and co-ordinate their plans with other departments and local government to build clusters of Government work.

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The report contrasts with one published last week by another think tank, the Northern Policy Foundation, which called for the mass relocation of thousands of Government employees amid claims such a move could bring £3bn into the North’s economy.

The centre-right group, which is backed by a number of so-called Red Wall Conservative MPs, said up to 95 per cent of the civil service could be moved out of London.

It comes as MPs are today set take part in a Westminster Hall debate about support for the economy in the North of England, called by Barnsley Central MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis.

Mr Jarvis is expected to say: "We need to level up the North. Not just a tinkering at the margins, but a full-scale transformation. Not just for the sake of my region, but for the sake of the whole country, to end an act of national self-harm."

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He is set to add: "We’re putting our skin in the game and laying down a challenge for the government to do their part, rather than waiting for them to take the initiative."

Campaigners this week warned of waning public confidence in the Government's plan to "level up" the North as a former Transport Secretary and HS2 architect, Andrew Adonis, also claimed there is a "battle royale" in Whitehall about whether to proceed with high speed rail projects aimed at benefiting Yorkshire.

The Government has been approached for comment.