BIS Sheffield closure: local MPs condemn department's plans

MPs say closure of BIS Sheffield will result in "loss of vital expertise, shrink the civil service talent pool and reduce the variety of experiences that contribute to policy-making"

By matt.foster

23 Feb 2016

Local MPs have rounded on a decision by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to close its Sheffield office by 2018.

BIS announced last month that it would close its St Paul's Place site, which focuses on policy and corporate services for BIS, in favour of a combined headquarters and policy centre in London. The move, which potentially places more than 240 jobs at risk, is part of a wider estate strategy by BIS to cut its number of buildings from 80 to seven or eight "centres of excellence" over the course of the parliament.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield (pictured) – who repeatedly questioned the decision in a recent parliamentary committee hearing with the department's permanent secretary Martin Donnelly – has now tabled an early day motion (EDM) in the Commons attacking the decision.

BIS estate to shrink from 80 sites to "seven or eight", says minister Sajid Javid – as perm sec Martin Donnelly is pressed on Sheffield closure
Martin Donnelly interview: the BIS permanent secretary on open leadership, the Spending Review – and the future shape of his department

The EDM is signed by four other local Labour MPs, including Sheffield Heeley's Louise Haigh, who is also the shadow minister for the civil service, Sheffield South East's Clive Betts, Rother Valley's Kevin Barron, and Penistone and Stocksbridge's Angela Smith.

Chris Stephens, the Scottish National Party MP representing Glasgow South West, has also put his name to the EDM, which comes ahead of a Commons debate on the closure due to take place on Wednesday.

The MPs say the decision to "move all policy work to London [...] will mean the loss of vital expertise, shrink the civil service talent pool and reduce the variety of experiences that contribute to policy-making".

They warn that the closure will undermine efforts to rebalance economic growth away from a dependence on the south-east, saying it will "have a detrimental impact on the local economies contrary to the government's Northern Powerhouse agenda".

And the MPs say that the business case for the shuttering of the site "has yet to be seen by key stakeholders or trade unions", urging the government "to publish the business case as a matter of urgency and to halt the process until a full review and debate hastaken place regarding the decision".

Speaking to MPs on the BIS committee earlier this month, perm sec Donnelly said the announcement of the site's closure – which he personally made on a visit to Sheffield – was "one of the most difficult" moments of his career.

However, he said the closure had been based upon "a clear, new business model for all of the department" and not a series of "disaggregated business cases for each of the 80-odd offices that we now have".

"We came very clearly to the conclusion that, within that strategic vision, it did make sense to have all of the people doing our policy, headquarters work, in one place close to ministers, that that was better for our delivery," he told the committee.

A petition calling for the government to reconsider its plans to close the site has so far gathered 4,600 signatures. At 10,000 signatures the government is required to give a formal response.

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