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London-based Civil Servants

Volume 590: debated on Wednesday 7 January 2015

1. What plans he has to reduce the number of London-based civil servants; and if he will make a statement. (906843)

As part of our long-term economic plan to save taxpayers money and to pay off the deficit, this Government have reduced the size of the civil service like for like by 21%—that is after adjusting for machinery of government changes. That has increased productivity and saved the taxpayers £2.4 billion last year alone compared with spending in 2009-10. The reduction includes a substantial cut in the number of London-based civil servants.

I thank the Minister for his positive answer. Given the pace and scale of devolution in the UK, is there not more scope for merging and moving London-based Departments?

There is a lot of scope for us to get out of properties that we do not need and we have done that already. We have released a huge amount of property into the private sector where it can be used for the purpose of creating jobs, and there is more that we can and will do in that respect.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an outstanding example of civil service dispersal is the Department for International Development in East Kilbride. As long as Scotland remains in the UK, which I believe it will for a very long time, can such an example be emulated?

I completely share the right hon. Gentleman’s hope about the United Kingdom, and wish to add my thanks and congratulations to the civil servants at DFID who do such a fantastic job in Scotland. There is scope for civil servants to work in many places other than central London and we will continue to pursue that.

Although transferring civil servants to other locations and downsizing are necessary, do they not make the whole business of managing the personnel in the civil service much more difficult? Will my right hon. Friend give full backing to the new chief executive of the civil service to strengthen the data held by the Cabinet Office on the skills and capabilities among civil servants so that we do not disrupt the training and career paths of the people on whom we depend?

As my hon. Friend well knows, the quality of data in central Government that we inherited was not good. It is getting better, but there is much more that needs to be done. The new chief executive of the civil service, who has got off to a terrific start, has a lot of experience in the management of big, complex dispersed organisations from his business background and I am sure that he will want to discuss that further with my hon. Friend.

Is the Minister not aware that there is a great deal of disillusionment in the civil service? Is it not our job in this House to support really good people with the highest level of skills coming into the civil service so that they are happy and motivated in their job? What will he do about morale in the civil service?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to support the development and skills of civil servants and to provide them with rewarding jobs. Obviously, the purpose of the civil service is not to provide jobs but to serve the public. I am happy to tell him that morale in the civil service, as measured in the annual people survey, has held up very well—it has certainly not fallen since the last year that his Government were in office—despite the very considerable demands made on it and the downsizing to which I have referred.

Jobs are lost from rural communities under the shared services project, as has happened at Alnwick. Can we have a more determined cross-Government effort to relocate out of London work, such as archives, that could be done in rural communities?

The right hon. Gentleman and I have discussed that in the Chamber before, and I completely understand his concern, particularly about the shared service staff in Alnwick. The machinery is not always as simple as it might be, but there is more that we can and should do to ensure that jobs are located in places where they can be undertaken efficiently and effectively with good results for the taxpayer and the citizen.