Government departments to be set targets to move senior civil servants out of London

Written by Beckie Smith on 17 April 2019 in News

Civil service chief executive John Manzoni says upcoming Spending Review will set "long term" target for senior officials

John Manzoni (centre) speaking at last week's Reform event. Photo: CSW

The Cabinet Office is planning to set each department targets for how many senior civil servants they have working outside London as part of its efforts to move staff out of Whitehall, civil service chief executive John Manzoni has revealed.

Manzoni said the civil service would use the Spending Review that “is going to happen at some point” – a reference to the likely delay to the process due to the Brexit extension announced last week – to tackle a "long term goal" for relocating senior posts.

“We agreed just the other day that in the right way, at the right pace, we are actually going to set targets by department… in the next few years for senior civil servants outside of London,” he said at an event in the capital about the government’s efforts to implement smarter working.


“We will be bringing various strands together to create quite a big move,” he said.

Implementing targets for senior civil servants will help to avoid an imbalance where less experienced officials work outside London but more senior officials remain concentrated in the capital, he said.

Manzoni told attendees at the event, which was hosted by the think tank Reform, that he had been struck by the strength of feeling among young officials keen to leave the South East of England.

“What’s really interesting is when you ask the young people, they’re dying to be based outside of London… because of course they can’t afford to live in London. They’re just dying to create an environment in which they could follow a career somewhere outside of the South East and have a better quality of life,” he said.

He said having a stronger presence in more areas of the UK would have many benefits for the civil servicve.

“We all sit here in our South East bubble and we don’t really know – and how many times we have got to repeat and learn that lesson, I’ve no idea – what the rest of the country’s feeling, frankly.”

A concerted effort is underway to forge clear career paths for civil servants outside London, partly through reorganising the government's estate, Manzoni said at last week's event. “We as government own 63% of the centre of Bromsgrove [in Worcestershire] in half-empty building because they’re all in their department silos, so if you put them all together that gives better career paths."

The government plans to move 1,000 civil servants outside of London by 2022, and thousands more by 2030.

It is in the process of setting up 20 regional, cross-departmental “hubs”, designed to so-called smart working standards that are designed to promote more effective use of space and facilitate flexible working. The first opened last October in London’s Canary Wharf, and more will open further afield in the coming years.

Manzoni said the adoption of smart working had already improved staff satisfaction in parts of the civil service.

He said since Ofgem had moved into the Canary Wharf hub, its staff survey had shown a 3% rise in staff saying they would recommend the energy watchdog as a great place to work; while the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation had used smarter working to reduce staff travel by 20%. It had also improved the success of recruitment campaigns because it could target a wider pool of applicants, he said.

‘Frustration can show’

Discussing other challenges facing the civil service, Manzoni said there still appeared to be barriers facing black and minority ethnic officials to progress to the higher rungs of the organisation.

“One of the things that is frustrating me at the moment [is that] I don’t know if this is the case for our female colleagues, but it’s certainly the case for our ethnic-minority colleagues… they sort of ‘bunch up’ under the Senior Civil Service level,” he said.

As of March 2018, BAME people made up 12% of the civil service but less than 8% of the Senior Civil Service.

“There is a sort of frustration that our natural reaction is to say, ‘you need a bit more training, you’re not quite ready [to progress to SCS],’ and we’re not prepared to take a risk on young people,” Manzoni said.

“I was in a room of 25 Grade 6 and 7 ethnic minority colleagues the other day, and I was really quite surprised at how angry they were about this perceived barrier. And of course if we put people into that situation of feeling frustration, that frustration can show.

“Of course, then it’s easy to say, ‘well I’m not sure the behaviours are quite right yet’… you can imagine, it’s rather difficult. I worry about that.”

Talking more generally about organisations across the UK, Manzoni said requirements to introduce gender pay gap reporting had brought to light “an extant issue”.

However, he said tackling the UK's ethnicity pay gap would be “way more complicated”.

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Beckie Smith
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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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