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Moving Civil Service Jobs outside London

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022

Before I start, Mr Speaker, I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine. This is an unprovoked attack by President Putin, and the UK and its allies will respond decisively. This morning the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelensky and chaired Cobra. He will make a statement to this House later today to outline the UK response, including overwhelming sanctions. The Cabinet Office is accelerating work on domestic resilience and we will provide more information on that in due course.

More than 2,000 civil service jobs have already moved to places across the UK under the Places for Growth programme, including York and the south-west.

May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s words? In this Parliament, we will stand in solidarity against the deranged tyranny we have seen and make the road that President Putin has chosen as painful as possible.

York is a beautiful city. It is the beating economic heart of the York city region, the new devolved region of York and the whole of the beautiful county of North Yorkshire. We would give a very warm welcome to anybody who relocates their jobs and their families to the area. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the very exciting plans we have heard about, which will see a number of jobs coming to the city?

Mr Speaker, even as Lancastrians I am sure that both you and I recognise that York is indeed a beautiful city. It very much features in our plans to relocate roles. Around 300 civil service roles have already moved or are moving to the city, in addition to the 2,790 civil servants already based in York.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the south-west also needs levelling up? Devon and Cornwall are more than just great places to go on holiday; they are also great places to live and work.

I very much agree. That is why the south-west is already home to 45,000 civil servants. The recent levelling-up White Paper highlighted the range of Departments that will be relocating, including to the south-west.

We know it is important to have a good breadth of civil service jobs out in the country, but it is also important to have a diverse civil service. Will the Minister explain what he will do to ensure that the top jobs in the civil service better reflect the nation they seek to serve?

I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman is right to champion diversity, which is at the heart of the Places for Growth programme. If we want a meritocracy, we need diversity as a part of that, recognising, as the Prime Minister has frequently said, that talent is equally distributed but opportunity often is not. People should be able to fulfil their careers closer to home. Moving senior-level jobs—for example, with the Treasury in Darlington—is a key part of enabling people from all backgrounds to access the very best jobs in our civil service.

I associate myself with the remarks made earlier. This is a dark day for democracy. As someone who has been in this House for a very long time and who was born during the Blitz, I know that dictators are never deterred by sanctions; they are deterred by firm action.

Huddersfield is a booming university town. It is the perfect place for people to come and live, with beautiful countryside. We are also a real centre for technology and innovation. We would love anything to do with green skills, green enterprise and green start-ups based in our university town.

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman. Through his experience in the House, he brings great context to the issues we face.

On Huddersfield, I very much agree. One of the issues is how we combine the Places for Growth programme with other parts of Government, not least the record investment in research and development—increased from £15 billion to £22 billion—so that we take the best of our academic research in our universities, and get the start-ups and then the scale-ups in places such as Huddersfield.

I echo the comments that have been made and our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine after Putin’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack.

To ensure that talented civil servants can build their careers outside London, we need to see senior civil service roles based in our towns and cities, not just concentrated in Whitehall. We need to put opportunities back in the places that built Britain. The Government’s levelling-up White Paper estimates that about 7% of senior civil service roles will be moved out of London by 2025 and that a further 10% would need to be moved out by 2030 to meet the Government’s Places for Growth target, but beyond vague words and wishful thinking, there is no clear plan to achieve that, is there? So what is the Minister’s plan? Is it to move Londoners out, sack hard-working civil servants, as the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency suggests, or to have a meaningful recruitment strategy across our regions?

I went to Preston City Council and to look at the new National Cyber Force—we have investment going into the cyber corridor of the north-west, combining the innovation in Manchester with, for example, the fantastic courses that Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire offer—and as I found when talking to that Labour-led council, there is actually a lot of cross-party support for Places for Growth. I do not think there is a huge difference between the parties. On the plan, we can look at the 2,000 roles that have already moved and the levelling-up White Paper of 2 February, which sets out the plan for how this will be taken forward.