MPs have launched an inquiry into the government’s strategy for its offices and workforce, examining plans to close offices, create hubs and move jobs away from London.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry will examine the Government Property Strategy and how it is being led.
The inquiry will also analyse the government's response to the Covid pandemic, including the move towards more hybrid working, and look at what impact looming job cuts might have on the strategy.
Chair of PACAC, William Wragg MP, said: “The estates strategy involves huge sums of public money and has long-term implications for how essential services are delivered by public servants.
“Our inquiry will examine the government’s progress on its targets to save costs and increase sustainability, civil service efficiency, and diversity.”
Cabinet Office and Government Property Agency – good leaders?
The Cabinet Office and Government Property Agency have responsibility for policy on the government’s estate. The 2018 Government Property Strategy was updated in August this year and included plans to reduce the Whitehall estate from 36 buildings to 16.
The inquiry will examine how well the Cabinet Office and GPA are “future-proofing” the Government Property Strategy so that it has the right office space, in the right geographical areas, to meet the needs of the civil service in the coming years.
It will also consider how effectively the they are working with other departments to help them achieve their individual estates strategies.
PACAC will also look at how well the estates strategy takes into account the implications of plans to slash 20% of the civil service workforce, which departments are currently working on delivering.
As part of the government’s Places for Growth programme to move 22,000 jobs outside London by 2030, including moving 50% of senior civil service roles, more than 7,000 roles have been relocated, with new headquarters set up in Glasgow, Darlington and Wolverhampton.
The inquiry will consider if the government is on track to achieve these targets and what actions are needed to ensure the targets are met.
It will also look into the risks and opportunities coming from relocation, such as the impact on diversity of thought and the quality of policymaking, and how the programme can achieve good value for money.
“The government’s strategy to move jobs out of London has the potential to uproot the lives and families of many,” Wragg said.
“We will dig deeper into whether it really delivers benefits for regional communities and leads to a cultural change within the civil service.”
The inquiry will also examine how moving jobs from small offices to major hubs will impact civil servants, local communities and economic regeneration.
It will look in particular at how HMRC has implemented phase one of the Government Hubs programme, which involves bringing together 60,000 officials into 13 hubs across the UK.
MPs will also be seeking evidence on previous efforts to adapt the government estate and relocate jobs, such as the closure of the regional network of government offices in 2010-11, and what government can learn from this.
Covid, sustainability and diversity
PACAC will also assess how the government has responded to the Covid pandemic and how it has changed working cultures, such as the increase in flexible working.
Wragg said the committee is “interested in how the government is grappling with the seismic shifts to working culture as we emerge from the shadow of Covid-19 and how it is taking this into account in its property planning.”
PACAC will also look for examples of how private companies and other governments across the world have adapted to the shift towards hybrid working.
Additionally, the inquiry will consider how the government’s estates strategy is driving the government priorities of sustainability and increased diversity.