Beyond the capital - civil servants' shift to regional offices sparks big debates

By: Penny Hampden-Turner


Civil servants are once again hitting headlines, this time with the news that, not only will they have to work in the office, more of them are going to be expected to  work in offices outside of London. As The Times reported, cabinet office minister John Glen wants to improve geographic diversity. As a result, three departments will open new offices in Darlington, Greater Manchester, and Aberdeen.   


The reasoning behind this is sound. The shift will mean that civil servants have a better understanding of all parts of the country, instead of the London-centric perspective that currently dominates much of the civil service. It will ultimately bring civil servants closer to the issues they oversee. This could be a win-win for civil servants as well, who could benefit from shorter commutes and better quality of life in one of the many great towns and cities across the regions of the UK. It might also contribute to levelling up. The Resolution Foundation, for example, has argued that investing in the UK’s cities outside London will help us catch up economically with the G7, where most countries have a number of cities focused on key industries outside of their capitals. Examples include Milan in Italy, New York in America, and Frankfurt in Germany.


Critically, it will save taxpayers’ money. The TPA has previously highlighted potential savings the government could make.This involved moving government offices (except ministers’ private offices) out of London to save money. Property is cheaper outside of London, and the London weighting allowance would not need to be paid to staff moved outside of the capital. This is estimated to save £104 million annually and is a key benefit to moving the civil service. According to TPA research, the government spends a £710 million premium each year to keep civil servants in London. The London weighting allowance alone costs taxpayers £418 million per year. This simple civil service reform would save money and boost productivity for the nation as a whole.   


However, as encouraging as this policy may be, this move is merely a plaster on a broken leg. Ultimately, the civil service is still growing. As the state stubbornly increases in size, so does the burden on taxpayers. The figures are clear: total public sector employment increased in September 2023 compared with the previous quarter, with central government being the main cause of the rise. Overall, there were 529,000 employees in the Civil Service in September 2023, up 7,000 (1.3 per cent) in comparison with June 2023, and up 16,000 (3.1 per cent) from September 2022.


As recent figures show, GDP has fallen in October. With the current excess of government spending, it is no wonder these figures are disappointing. An oversized state and record tax burdens are suffocating the economy and growth is suffering as a result. The only exception is the public sector, mainly the NHS, which is growing. These figures just reaffirm the argument that the bloated bureaucracy needs to be cut for the benefit of the UK. 


While moving workers outside of London is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. To really promote growth and level up all parts of the UK, we need to shrink the size of the state and reduce taxes. 

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