The Cabinet Office will create a “policy campus” in Sheffield in what minister Alex Burghart has described as the “first dedicated face-to-face policy profession development offer outside of London”.
The plans aim to build on a current presence of around 1,000 civil service policy professionals in the city and create a new pipeline of expertise in Yorkshire. The project is a collaboration with Sheffield City Council, the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
The Cabinet Office said the Sheffield Policy Campus would aim to create a “hub of core policy jobs”, where people can advance their careers in key decision-making positions without needing to move to – or work in – London.
The campus will be based at St Paul’s Place in Sheffield, initially at least. Its creation follows the launch of the government’s Economic Campus in Darlington in 2021 as part of a strategy of aligning specific sectors or disciplines with regions.
Sheffield will also host a regional pilot of the civil service’s Fast Stream graduate recruitment programme, starting with the 2024 intake. The plans set out yesterday also include “policy apprenticeships and events to attract university-leavers within the city”.
In a document unpacking the policy campus vision, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Burghart said the government’s ambition was to “build a critical mass beyond Whitehall, to drive better policymaking and contribute to the levelling-up agenda”.
Burghart said Sheffield was already the largest centre of policymaking outside of the capital, with around 1,000 poilcymakers and the leadership of national policies including apprenticeships, private pensions, Universal Credit and Employment Support based in the city.
“Our vision is to develop Sheffield and the South Yorkshire region’s role as one of the leading centres for policymaking outside London, bringing benefits for Yorkshire and the Humber, and supporting other major cities in a network that will bring the whole country more directly into shaping major decisions,” he said.
“We will establish a policy infrastructure with new entrance routes – the first regional Fast Stream, policy apprenticeships, and professional development – to create a substantial talent pipeline.
“The critical mass of senior policy roles will support careers, enabling progression to the most senior roles.”
Burghart said Sheffield’s policymaking expansion would “be aligned with and support” the expansion of departments in Leeds.
“This first dedicated face-to-face policy profession development offer outside of London will support other centres, including the significant civil service presence in Manchester,” he added.
“Most importantly this will be a proof of vision – that policymaking outside London is not confined to individual areas, or departments relocating small numbers of staff. It will show that we can achieve scale, and there is huge benefit in doing so.”
According to the Cabinet Office, there are currently around 7,000 civil servants based in Sheffield with the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities operating from offices at St Paul’s Place. Policy officials working for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology also have a presence.
Infamously, the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced plans to shut down its operations at St Paul’s Place in 2016 to move all policy jobs back to central London as part of plans to reduce its policy-officer headcount from 2,000 to 1,500.
The prospectus for the Sheffield Policy Campus said the government’s proposals for the city would also see it develop a single property strategy in a pilot run as part of the One Public Estate programme. The programme aims to maximise the use of buildings by public-sector organisations, potentially co-locating services offered by central government, local government and the health service under the same roof.
“One aspect of that strategy will be to seek to bring together departments in the city to support a single cross-government community,” the document said.
“That will support creating a single culture and facilitate joint working on shared priorities. As part of the One Public Estate pilot, we will test options to physically align major functions in Sheffield.”
It said the civil service currently has bases in 12 different locations across the city, totalling around 50,000sq m of space. But it said the buildings were “geographically dispersed”, making them “not ideal” for supporting a “single cross-government community” and joint working on shared priorities.
The document said the Government Property Agency would work on the single property strategy, while the pilot would “test options to physically align major functions” in Sheffield.