Thérèse Coffey has picked Quarry House in Leeds as her department’s second HQ and spoken of her keenness for its local nickname of “The Kremlin” to be dropped.
Unlike the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury – which are opening regional bases in locations where they do not already have a presence – the Department for Work and Pensions has designated an existing base as its seat of power outside London.
Coffey publicly announced the selection of Leeds as DWP’s second home in a comment piece in the Yorkshire Post today. The department already runs core services including digital, HR, finance, policy and operations from the building.
Coffey said that because DWP has a large workforce based outside the capital, there were a range of options for a second ministerial office that did not require the acquisition of new buildings.
“When the prime minister called on ministers to establish a second headquarters outside of the M25, I was spoilt for choice,” she said.
“Recognising we would be gaining a sense of perspective away from the Westminster bubble, in addition to our experiences as parliamentarians, ministers were keen to be at a well-established hub with all the levers of the civil service already up and running and well placed to be a springboard; Leeds was clearly the leading candidate for us.”
Coffey made no reference to any increase in headcount at Leeds that would result from Quarry House being designated as DWP’s second HQ. Ministers often refer to the government's drive to relocate 22,000 civil service roles away from the capital by the end of the decade in such announcements.
DWP was chastised by the Health and Safety Executive in September last year over its failure to implement adequate measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at Quarry House. At the time, ministers were aiming for around 80% of civil servants to return to the workplace for at least part of the week, but the drive was dropped by the end of the month.
Coffey praised Leeds-based staff who featured in the Channel 4 documentary The Yorkshire Jobcentre last year and said she hopes the monolithic 1990s Quarry House would lose its local nickname of “The Kremlin” .
“It is because of people like Amah, Becky and Pip that I call us the Department of Wonderful People,” Coffey said of staff who featured in the documentary.
“That is why I also want Quarry House to be thought as the People’s Palace, not the Kremlin.”
DWP had around 80,000 staff, according to the Cabinet Office’s last annual civil service workforce snapshot, which was published in September. It subsequently embarked on a hiring campaign for more work coaches to help people who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic find new work.
Coffey said that around 90% of DWPs workforce were based outside London.