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Civil Service: Policy Making

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2016

Departments determine their workforce needs, and the civil service has a significant United Kingdom-wide presence. We are considering new Government hubs and strategic locations outside London as a way of further consolidating our office estates. I know from my own area that parts of Public Health England, for example, are moving from London to the east of England, which means £500 million of investment and thousands of jobs.

The Government have decided to close the office of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Sheffield and move it to London, and we have now learnt that the vast majority of policy makers for the northern powerhouse are based in London as well. We in Newport have benefited hugely from the location of civil service jobs in, for instance, the Intellectual Property Office and the Office for National Statistics. Given the Government’s recent woeful track record, will the Minister make it clear today that those jobs are valued, will be protected, and will remain in Newport?

The northern powerhouse is about devolution, not about jobs in London. The Government have a passion for Newport, and for Wales in general. Not only did the NATO summit encourage investment, but, as the hon. Lady knows, the Friars Walk regeneration project means more jobs and finance. When my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General visited the ONS office recently, he expressed huge admiration for the work of its staff, and committed himself to its long-term future. Only this week, it was announced that the ONS was recruiting 30 economic researchers to graduate posts. It is developing a skills base that will enable it to become a centre of expertise for data handling, and the hon. Lady should be celebrating that in her constituency.

When Labour lost power in 2010, there were 181 Government-owned buildings in central London. The equivalent number today is 54, because the present Government have got rid of 130. How much further will this go, given that it indicates a wish to move jobs out to the regions?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and the figure should be about 20 by the end of the decade. It is worth noting that the number of civil servants based in London has fallen by more than 7,500. As my hon. Friend says, the number of buildings in London has fallen from 181 to 54, which has meant savings of more than £2.8 billion for the taxpayer.

The Minister suggested it was Government policy to try to ensure that civil service employment opportunities were spread throughout the United Kingdom. Does he agree that it is a good idea—on the grounds of value for money, and on other grounds—for everyone to get out of the London and Westminster bubble and out into the real world on a more regular basis?

I could not have put it better myself. As I have said, there are 800 civil service buildings outside London. We have important targets for developing important strategic hubs for the civil service all over the country, and more people who get out of the Westminster bubble, the better.

We know that the Minister’s friend the Paymaster General is very close to the Chancellor, and that he therefore likes to insert the words “northern” and “powerhouse” into every speech he makes. However, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), 98% of senior jobs in the northern powerhouse department are now based in London, and—with no sense of irony—Sheffield policy-making jobs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been moved to Whitehall. The test for the Minister, when he finally gets the promotion that he has been seeking and that he so richly deserves, will be whether he has more senior and policy-making civil servants in London or fewer. Does he have it within him to live up to our expectations?

I genuinely cannot understand the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. She should be proud, as are councils in the north of England, that the northern powerhouse is devolving powers right across the region. We are one of the most radical Governments when it comes to devolution. Her councils in the north support it, and I am sad that she does not.