Shift Whitehall jobs to regions says MP

John Mann Bassetlaw MP Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption John Mann MP wants eight government departments to move out of Whitehall

Labour MP John Mann wants eight government departments to move out of London taking their highly paid civil service jobs with them.

The Bassetlaw Labour MP wants thousands now working in Whitehall to move to new offices in the North, Midlands and the South West.

"With modern communications a move of the Department of Work and Pensions to Leeds and moving the Business, Innovation and Skills Department to Sheffield could be done in a matter of months," he says.

"This is not a big move in terms of the logistics.

"Psychologically though it is an enormous move because it's cutting down the power of Whitehall and London, and that is why the civil service has always resisted it."

He has raised the issue by tabling a rarely used 'Presentation Bill' in the House of Commons.

Such bills are not debated or put to a vote but remain on the order paper.

Apart from the two Yorkshire cities John Mann suggests sending the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to Bristol; Transport to Birmingham; Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester; Education to Nottingham; International Development to Newcastle, and Communities and Local Government to Liverpool.

"It means civil servants making decisions based on experiences they rarely get in Whitehall," says John Mann.

"It would also be cost effective and a boost to the local economies."

Sheffield story

Since the late 1970s high profile attempts have been made to move substantial parts of government departments and agencies away from London.

In Sheffield the giant 10 storey Moorfoot office complex was built on the edge of the city centre in 1979 to house hundreds of civil servants.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Moorfoot opened in 1981 in Sheffield to house the Manpower Services Commission

Ironically, unemployment had dispatched them to Sheffield because they were to run the newly-created Manpower Services Commission (MSC).

With dole queues rising to two million the MSC coordinated the launch of thousands of work experience schemes across the country.

"Sheffield was amongst the first to benefit from such moves," says David Fletcher who heads the Inward Investment team at Creative Sheffield, the City Council's organisation trying to attract new jobs to the city today.

"The Manpower Services Commission, later the Training Agency, brought many jobs into the city.

"The bulk of those jobs in some way shape or form are still here. Some jobs do come and go but it's given us a platform to build for growth."

Reorganisation, policy changes and budget cuts over the years means the civil servants remaining in Sheffield have now abandoned the Moorfoot building for more modern office accommodation.

The last one moved out in 2010 and now some of its 10 floors are being used by the City Council.

Labour intentions

Over the past 40 years umpteen reports and policies have been announced aimed at shifting valuable central government jobs to economically hard-pressed cities in other parts of the country.

The most recent reports, commissioned by the Labour government in 2004 and 2009, recommended moving around 20,000 civil servants out of London.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption David Fletcher of Create Sheffield says he is always willing to discuss any future plans

"We haven't heard too much about that with the present government," says David Fletcher.

"But we are always ready and willing to discuss any future plans."

Some of those transplants have taken place. Hull is now a major part of the Land Registry.

In other cities attempts at departmental relocation have proved a mixed blessing.

The most ambitious was in the 1990s when the Department of Health switched operational control of the entire NHS to a multi-million pound new complex in Leeds.

The massive Quarry House's grand architectural style saw it nicknamed the 'Kremlin' on completion.

Within a few years policy and budget changes saw several hundred of its staff made redundant.

Now the government is promising to fill it again with over 800 staff needed to run the new NHS Commissioning Agency.