Civil service jobs to move to northern England ‘economic hubs’

Darlington, where the planned new Treasury headquarters will be located Shutterstock

The government is pressing ahead with plans to move thousands of civil service jobs out of Westminster, with the chancellor unveiling proposals for two new ‘economic hubs’ in the north of England.

In his budget speech yesterday, Rishi Sunak confirmed plans for a new campus for “critical economic departments” in Darlington, and the national infrastructure bank in Leeds.

The Darlington campus will house staff from the Treasury, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department for International Trade and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

Plans to relocate the Treasury headquarters were outlined in last year’s budget, but the location of the new site had not been revealed until yesterday.

It has not yet been confirmed how many jobs will be based at the new Darlington site, nor has any further detail been included in the Treasury’s Budget 2021 documentation.

The infrastructure bank in Leeds, which aims to fund at least £40bn worth of public and private projects, is set to open later this spring in an “interim form”.

As part of its “levelling up” agenda, the government wants to move 22,000 civil service jobs out of London by 2030.

Last year the Northern Policy Foundation, a think tank founded by Conservative MPs, recommended Leeds for the new Treasury northern headquarters. It also recently called for 50,000 civil servants to be moved to Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle to overcome a perceived lack of diversity of thought in government departments.

The think tank’s director Tom Lees said: “Moving Whitehall mandarins and roles out of London allows for recruitment of local people with different backgrounds … Given the proliferation of Zoom, Teams and other technology there is no real need to be in close physical proximity.”

The Institute for Government said that 400 Treasury staff – around a quarter of the whole department – and 350 staff from other departments could relocate to Darlington.

Sarah Nickson, the think tank’s senior researcher, said that the decision could “help break down departmental silos”, but staff retention could be an issue.

“When the Office for National Statistics shifted its headquarters from London to Newport in south Wales, 90% of London-based staff chose to stay in London and find other jobs. Even a decade after the move commenced, a review found that the resulting disruption continued to hamper the quality of the ONS’ work,” she said in a blog post yesterday.

“Like ONS staff, most Treasury officials will have plenty of other job options should they weigh up caring responsibilities, children’s schooling, and spouses’ work – or their own careers – and decide to stay in London.”

Nickson warned that Darlington had a relatively small labour market, with only 20,000 people working in professional and managerial roles.

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