Whole Government departments should be moved out of London and relocated to cities such as Birmingham, MPs are insisting.
A campaign to break up London’s monopoly on major Government departments was launched in the House of Commons with the presentation of legislation to bring the Department for Transport to Birmingham.
The Department for Transport Relocation to Birmingham: Bill received its first reading in the Commons, along with Bills which would move the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to Sheffield; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester; the Department for Education to Nottingham; the Department for International Development to Newcastle; the Department for Work and Pensions to Leeds, and the Department for Communities and Local Government to Liverpool.
Although these Bills will not pass into law, MPs including Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak), Richard Burden (Lab Northfield), Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North) and John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) are urging the Government to revive plans to move thousands of civil service jobs out of the capital.
The previous Government succeeded in shifting 20,000 jobs out of London and the South-east, including 2,069 which were relocated to the West Midlands, after former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown recruited Sir Michael Lyons, the former chief executive of Birmingham City Council, to lead a review into the civil service.
But MPs say this did not go far enough and are urging the Government to get tough with civil servants who are reluctant to quit London. MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) said: “While these Bills are not going to become law they are a way of making the point that our system of government in England is far too centralised.”
Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak) said: “There has been talk about moving departments out of London for years and the block is with the civil service. In the age of the internet and rapid communications there is no need to have all these people locked up in London. We have an over-heated economy in London and we have unemployment in the rest of the country.”
The Bills were presented to the Commons by John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire. He said: “By spreading department headquarters around the UK, the Government can begin levelling a playing field which is currently heavily weighted in favour of London and the South-east.
“Doing so will remove pressure from the overheated London economy, save money spent paying employees a London allowance, bring jobs to areas hardest hit by the recession, and provide the Government with a more rounded perspective when creating policies.”
Agencies which moved to the West Midlands following Sir Michael Lyons’ inquiry included OFWAT, the Gambling Commission, the Big Lottery Fund, the Local Better Regulation Office and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.
But a study commissioned by the Treasury and published in March 2010 said another 15,000 of the 85,000 civil service jobs in London should be moved out.
The paper, written by businessman Ian R Smith, warned that civil servants were still reluctant to move and there was still an assumption that civil service jobs should be located in the capital.
Mr Smith warned that the fact that government ministers were based in London was seen as a reason for ensuring top civil service jobs remained in the capital.
One solution to this would be to move ministers themselves into the regions, he said.
“An increasingly decentralised Civil Service will benefit greatly from some ministers themselves being based in the regions. I believe there is a case for considering how this might be achieved in practice and the role that digital technology can play in making this a reality.”
Business Birmingham, the council-backed body set up to encourage investment, is continuing to push for more public sector relocations at the same time as encouraging private-sector employers to come to the city.
Marek Dobrowolski, investment manager at Business Birmingham, said the size of the city’s workforce gave it an advantage because employers could be confident of recruiting staff to fill specialised departments such as human resources or finance.