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Civil Service Reform

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 16 July 2020

If he will make an assessment of the potential effect of reductions in civil service headcount on the ability of Government to implement its policies. (904848)

If he will make an assessment of the potential effect of reductions in civil service headcount on the ability of Government to implement its policies. (904869)

What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the Government’s plans to reform the civil service. (904870)

The Government were elected with an ambitious agenda. The civil service must continue to change to deliver that agenda, which means focusing laser-like on improving citizens’ lives. I was proud to be able to talk to civil servants yesterday at Civil Service Live and to be able to share with them an ambitious reform programme that has the support of public servants across the United Kingdom.

A number of my constituents are civil servants, and they have written to me to express their understandable shock and upset about the recent announcement about their jobs, which will be cut. Given the extraordinary challenges that our public sector now faces—dealing with covid, the economic downturn and Brexit—can the Minister tell me why the Government have chosen to shrink the civil service at this crucial time, and will he commit to reviewing this decision?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question on behalf of her constituents. We value everyone who works in the civil service. I will look at the specific cases she mentions, because we want to ensure that everyone who has talent and commitment, and who wants to serve the public, has a chance to do so. If she would be kind enough to write to me about the specific cases, I will respond as quickly as I can in support of her constituents.

One of the justifications for demolishing Richmond House was that we needed extra places for civil servants working for us and generally for the national machine. Now that we have had covid and the civil service is so successfully working from home—and there are long-term plans to move to a three-day week and to allow civil servants to work two days a week—would the Minister accept that we no longer need all this office space in central London, and we can actually make some money by leasing it out to the private sector?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. People have been working more flexibly as a result of the covid pandemic, and that is something that we would like to encourage, support and facilitate. We also want to ensure that more decision making is taken closer to the people, which means more civil service jobs—particularly senior civil service jobs—being located outside London, and that does create commercial opportunities for the Government.

In his recent Ditchley speech, my right hon. Friend referred to transferring energy sector civil servants and policy makers to Humberside. Will he outline what progress he is making with that, and will he push forward and ensure that the Cleethorpes constituency plays its part?

My hon. Friend is right. I said that there were at least three possible locations for the relocation of jobs in the energy sector: Teesside, Humberside and, of course, Aberdeen. There are already civil servants in Aberdeen working in this area, but we want to ensure that more jobs are dispersed to areas at the forefront of the green energy revolution—and, of course, Cleethorpes is right at the heart of that.

On the important subject of civil service staff, what does it say about the Government’s approach to bullying that it now appears that the director of propriety and ethics, who investigated serious allegations about the conduct of the Home Secretary, is to be moved?

I am not aware of any plans for the extremely distinguished deputy Cabinet Secretary and head of propriety and ethics to be moved. Just because the story appears in The Guardian, that does not sadly these days mean that it is true.