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Relocation, Relocation, Relocation

Source: Public Sector Executive Mar/Apr 12

John Mann MP wants eight major departments of state to be relocated out of London to other UK cities to revive areas affected by recession and eliminate pressure on the London economy. His eight Presentation Bills have provoked debate and highlighted new options that could benefit the UK economy. Daniella McCarron reports.

John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, believes “it is time that the location of British Government truly reflected the people it says it aims to represent.”

Relocating governmental departments to cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham and Newcastle would improve local economies, providing jobs outside of London, he argues. That is why he chose to introduce eight symbolic bills into Parliament to relocate some of the biggest departments elsewhere in the country.

“By spreading department headquarters around the UK, the Government can begin levelling a playing-field which is currently heavily weighted in favour of London and the South East,” declared Mann.

Many feel that the UK’s system of government is too centralised and the Government needs to take action in revitalising areas that are suffering in the current climate. Although the Bills will not be turned into law, they do encourage the Government to consider alternative options.

The Bassetlaw MP has the support of many. For example, Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Selly Oak, argued: “In the age of the internet and rapid communications there is no need to have all these people locked up in London. We have an overheated economy in London and we have unemployment in the rest of the country.”

Mann told the BBC that the proposal is “not a big move in terms of the logistics.” But he added: “Psychologically though it is an enormous move because it’s cutting down the power of Whitehall and London, and that is why the civil service has always resisted it.”

On the one hand, the suggestion can be seen as a clever move, boosting economy and saving money. Moreover, the governance of the UK has revolved around London for hundreds of years and moving so many civil service jobs to different areas could help connect them with the non-metropolitan world that most people inhabit.

Yet some critics argue that the proposal would, in fact, not benefit local economies; only making areas more dependent on government money, rather than building their own prosperity.

Many county councils supported the MP’s proposal, in particular Devon County Council, which called for the West Country to be considered in Mann’s Bills. Devon county councillor Gordon Hook said the West Country was in urgent need of regeneration and that the picturesque landscape would attract workers to the west. He wrote on his website: “London has 100,000s of civil servants, many on very good wages all helping to ‘stoke’ the economy of the South East of England and adding to traffic chaos/pollution/ contributing to the overcrowding and water shortage problems of the South East. All valid reasons therefore to consider moving out of London and in so doing aiding the regional economies.”

When it was in Government, Labour managed to shift 20,000 jobs out of London and the South East to other regions of the UK, and previous Governments have made serious efforts too. It has often been easier to set up new agencies and arm’s length bodies in other parts of the UK than to move central Government functions: the recent decision to base the Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh is one example, but in recent years many such bodies have headquartered themselves, or moved substantial amounts of their operations, outside the capital, such as the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (Manchester), the DVLA (Swansea), and the Marine Management Organisation (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).

After the Lyons Review of 2004, a further study commissioned by the Treasury and published in March 2010, ‘Relocation: transforming how and where government works’, suggested that another 15,000 out of 85,000 civil service jobs in London should be relocated.

Businessman Ian Smith, responsible for the review, highlighted the fact that many civil servants were reluctant to leave the capital. He wanted “processes and incentives that will drive a robust and self-sustaining relocation programme which should produce a measurable and permanent shift of activity from London”.

He stated: “An increasingly decentralised civil service will benefit greatly from some ministers themselves being based in the regions. I believe there is a case for considering how this might be achieved in practice and the role that digital technology can play in making this a reality.”

The Bills themselves are not yet available to view in full, since they are Private Member’s Bills which are often not printed until close to the second reading debate.

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