Gove reaffirms plans to move officials out of London amid report of new York hub

Senior officials already sizing up properties on Rightmove, according to The Times
An empty Whitehall. Photo: Han YanTimIreland/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

By Richard Johnstone

13 Jul 2020

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said the government remains committed to moving officials out of London, amid reports that ministers are considering designating York a second centre of government.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Gove said the government would stick to plans first set out before the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked on the Andrew Marr Show if we are finally going to see “chunks of the civil service moved out of London”, Gove said "yes".

He said that many UK civil servants already work outside London, including for the Department for International Development in Scotland and the Department for Transport and its agencies in Wales.

But he said that “we can do more”.

He added: “I think it's vitally important that decision makers are close to people. I think it's vitally  important that the strength of the UK government is displayed across the whole of the whole of the United Kingdom.”

The comments came after The Times reported that York has been identified as one of several potential sites to base senior civil servants.

CSW revealed in February that departments were working with the Cabinet Office’s Places for Growth team on plans to move civil service jobs out of the capital under the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review.  Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed in the Budget that the government wanted to move 22,000 civil servants out of central London by 2030 so it could "make decisions differently in future”.

The Times reported on Saturday that departments have been given two weeks to submit plans.

It reported that the plans will then be used to begin to map relocations against the government’s hub network.

The creation of the 13 new regional has been led by HM Revenue and Customs, which plans to reduce its number of offices. HMRC now has hubs either open or planned in locations including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, as well as two London bases.

The government’s most recent estate strategy said as many as 20 hubs could be created around the country. The first two offices in the programme’s second phase have been agreed for a second building in Birmingham, and one in Peterborough.

Any possible move of officials to York could be accompanied by shifting the House of Lords to the city, which was mooted earlier this year.

According to The Times, senior civil servants “are already looking at Rightmove to see what they can buy for the cost of a terraced house in East Dulwich” in anticipation of a possible move to York. “And they like it. They are looking at substantial Edwardian villas in Harrogate.”

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