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Lyons Review

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

3. What discussions he has had with the Office of Government Commerce on the measurement of the wider social and economic benefits of departmental relocations under the Lyons review. (104884)

I can announce that, since the Lyons report recommended 20,000 civil service relocations by 2010, 10,179 posts have already been announced for relocation. Some 1,200 of those posts are in the east and west midlands. The Lyons review presented evidence that movement of posts would offer positive economic and social benefits for the receiving destination. That is now the subject of a review that will be published in the new year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. May I remind him of our objective in north Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent of getting jobs relocated there from the Government estate? Given the information in yesterday’s pre-Budget report that more than half of the jobs to be relocated have now been relocated, will he look closely at the guidance from the Office of Government Commerce and, in particular, the e-PIMS mapping system, which tends to highlight areas that already have parts of the Government estate? In Stoke-on-Trent, we do not have that Government estate and we desperately need the Chancellor to recognise the social and economic case for relocation of jobs to our area.

I will look at that. When my hon. Friend asked me a question yesterday about the textiles and other industries—the pottery industry—in her area, I said that we would hold a meeting with her and other local MPs. The fact is that some of the 1,200 jobs relocated to the midlands have been relocated to her constituency—from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. However, I appreciate that, although unemployment has fallen substantially in her constituency since 1997, from 1,880 to 1,326, jobs need to be created for the future. That is why we will also look carefully at how local enterprise grants can go to her constituency in future.

Yesterday, the Chancellor recycled announcements and fiddled his fiscal rules. Has he given Sir Michael Lyons the same misleading information as he gave the public last month about increases in central Government grant for next year’s local finance settlement? In south Shropshire in my constituency, the public were told that the Chancellor was increasing that grant by 5.9 per cent., but it ended up being 3.4 per cent.

I see that the hon. Gentleman has asked not about relocation of jobs to his constituency, but about Government grants. I think he will agree that Government grants to local authorities have gone up every year, continue to go up this year and will go up next year, which is a very different situation from what happened under the Conservative Government.

My right hon. Friend should be congratulated on the progress of relocation of jobs and administrative centres since the Lyons review, but does he agree that many other bodies that receive Government money could also be relocated in other more deserving areas?

That is exactly what we are looking at. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the Training and Development Agency is moving to Manchester, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to Coventry and the Standards Board to the north-west; and that there are other relocations right across the whole of the UK. We will continue to look further into relocations—first because we believe that they are about best value for money and, secondly, because we believe that they can be of great benefit to constituencies and regions like my hon. Friend’s, where there is a continuing need to create more jobs for the future.

The relocation of civil servants raises issues about lack of geographical coverage: for instance, HMRC will now apparently be fighting fraud in London with a team based in Portsmouth. What does the Chancellor say to Mr. Clive Murray, who has 16 years experience as an HMRC compliance officer and who wrote to me last month about the centralisation of anti-fraud teams to ask how

“somehow or other overworked staff in Portsmouth will be able to find crooks throughout London and the South East by purely technological means unknown to them before”?

How is the Clunking Fist going to make that work?

We have created the most modern system of investigating fraud and I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the changes in HMRC and more generally in our approach to dealing with criminal fraud have been major and substantial. I do not quite understand the hon. Gentleman’s point when he says that relocation has been unbalanced throughout the whole of the UK. Relocations are also taking place in the south-east region, from the centre of London to some of the south-east’s higher unemployment areas. The House should know that, so far as the 10,000 reallocated jobs are concerned, 2,000 went to Yorkshire, about 1,000 to the midlands, 2,500 to Wales, 693 to the south-west, and the east of England and the north-east have also received some relocations. It is important to correct the misrepresentation, as these relocations are taking place right across the UK.

The Chancellor will be aware that unemployment in my constituency has dropped since 1997 and that it continues to drop, even since last month’s announcement. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how I should campaign to get some of the relocated jobs into my constituency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has fought for jobs in his constituency. He is right that, as a result of the new deal and other Government initiatives, unemployment in his constituency is lower now than it was in 1997. A report will be published soon on the economic and social benefits of relocation. I suggest that, following that, we have a meeting to look into how jobs can be relocated to new areas that have not yet benefited from the relocation policy.