Ministers and departments will be moved to 'great northern cities', PM says

Boris Johnson promises to "build back stronger, build back faster" as he says north faces greater "sacrifices and hardships" than elsewhere
The PM told northern businesses: "You face hardships and sacrifices over and above everyone else."

Ministers and entire government departments will be moved out of London to the “great northern cities” under plans to move more civil servants out of the capital, Boris Johnson has said.

In a speech to northern businesses yesterday, the prime minister said he was pressing ahead with plans to move a large proportion of civil servants out of London as part of an effort to “level up the north”.

“We will move departments of state, ministers, private offices and all, to great northern cities and regions that represent the future of this country,” he told attendees at the Great Northern Conference.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said in March that the government intended to move 22,000 civil servants to other regions by 2030. The plans include moving three Treasury sites out of London, with Darlington tipped to be the site for a “campus” for around a fifth of Treasury civil servants.

In a pre-recorded video message to the conference, Johnson said investing in skills, education and infrastructure to “level up” economically-disadvantaged parts of the country was “more urgent than ever”.

“Even now, as we are still up to our thighs in the mud of the trenches, grappling with this virus, my message to you is that it cannot be enough simply to get through the crisis, we must build back better, build back stronger, build back faster,” he said.

Johnson’s comments came the same day that cabinet secretary Simon Case and civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm appeared before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee and answered questions on moving civil servants out of the capital.

Case said the civil service leadership shared a “common drive with ministers to get a civil service that looks, feels and operates geographically  more like the country it serves: less London, more out there in the country”.

Chisholm said he was confident that the 10-year programme would be delivered. He said government hubs being set up across the country would provide the infrastructure, and the civil service’s response to the pandemic had underscored new ways of “hybrid” working.

Chisholm said Covid-19 had given everyone a “crash course” in remote working. “It’s becoming easier to move people around and to be able to operate from multiple different locations,” he said.

“That has made it easier to achieve the vision of the UK-wide civil service.”

'Hardships and sacrifices'

Johnson also told business leaders that those in the north of England had faced greater “hardships and sacrifices” than those elsewhere in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic.

His speech came after a tumultuous week in which the government imposed the highest level of coronavirus restrictions under its new tiered system on Greater Manchester after failing to agree a deal with local leaders. Merseyside was the first region to move into Tier 3, and South Yorkshire will follow this weekend.

Local lockdowns have been more prevalent in the north than elsewhere in England in recent months, and local leaders have argued that financial support packages being offered to the worst-hit areas under the new tiered system of restrictions are insufficient.

"I know that many of you are putting up with restrictions the like of which we haven't seen in our lifetime. And for those of you living under the higher alert levels in the north, you face hardships and sacrifices over and above everyone else,” Johnson said.

He thanked the “heroic efforts” of local leaders and businesses to tackle the pandemic, “while at the same time keeping our children in school and our economy running”.

Johnson said the government’s economic support package include £3.3bn in loans offered to Yorkshire businesses, more than £5bn to those in the north west and £3.3bn in the north east.

The PM warned that the winter “is not going to be easy”.

"But I'm certain the people of northern England will confront this crisis with the fortitude and selflessness we've seen throughout from the companies who rode to the rescue, to help to make those much needed masks and ventilators to the living angels of the north, who went further than anyone could have imagined to help each other out.”

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