Darlington has been tipped to host the Treasury’s new “economic campus” outside London, as Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the way civil servants had adapted to the coronavirus crisis proved they could make a success of moving out of Whitehall.
Designs for a building at Teesside Airport on the outskirts of the County Durham town have been submitted to No.10 for consideration, according to reports this weekend.
Plans for a new hub, along with two other Treasury offices outside the capital. were announced in March as part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda to rebalance regional inequality. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said at the time that he a fifth of Treasury civil servants would move to the hub, where they would be "joined by members of other economic-facing departments".
This summer Gove reiterated the government’s commitment to relocate thousands of civil service roles outside London, as part of its efforts to rebalance regional inequality under the prime minister’s “levelling up” agenda.
And speaking at the Conservative Party conference this weekend, he again said he wanted more officials “closer to where the action is”.
The Cabinet Office minister said the way the civil service has weathered the upheaval of remote working during the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated officials do not need to be based in London to do their jobs effectively.
“The key thing about the changes that have been enabled from working from home is we can say, 'You don't need to have a concentration of people in a Whitehall department operating in that way',” Gove said.
"You can have the decision makers dispersed, you can have people who are operating digitally who may come in for particular meetings but who can live and work and contribute to the life of the communities that they love outside of London, or outside some of our major urban centres.”
Gove said “far too many government jobs” were based in Whitehall and Westminster.
“I think we need some of the big government departments and the big decision makers not in London but closer to where the action is in the North West, the West Midlands, Teesside and Tyneside,” Gove said in a live-streamed conversation with West Midlands mayor Andy Street.
Sunak had been expected to announce the locations of the three new Treasury offices in his Autumn Budget, which has now been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Responding to reports of the Darlington site, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “I have had numerous conversations with government ministers about moving government departments to the north, and I have made it crystal clear that these jobs should come to Teesside."
And Peter Gibson, the Conservative MP for Darlington, said additional government jobs would be “transformational” for the area.
“If they come to the Tees Valley it is going to benefit Darlington, Sedgefield, Stockton North and South, Middlesbrough, Redcar because we are a relatively small economy,” he said.
He added: “The levelling up agenda and delivering investment and jobs to our area is no better demonstrated than by putting the government’s money where its mouth is.”
A Treasury spokesperson said no decisions had been made as to the location of the new campus.
“We will ensure that our economic recovery from Covid-19 benefits every part of the country as we level up opportunities for all,” they said.
“The chancellor announced at the [Spring] Budget that we will establish a new campus in the north of England focused on economic decision making, and further details will be provided in due course.”