Government to set out plans to relocate civil servants in the spring

Cabinet Office Single Departmental Plan also reveals proposals for a new shared services strategy as part of moves to boost commercial capability


By Richard Johnstone

15 Dec 2017

The Cabinet Office has revealed that a revised government estates strategy will be published in the Spring of 2018 detailing proposals for a “redistribution of public servants” around the country.

In its Single Departmental Plan, published yesterday, the department said that an “ambitious” revision to the cross-government property plan would focus on “further improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the government’s estate, including hubs and a redistribution of public servants”.

This would represent an expansion of the current development of cross-departmental office hubs, which is being led by HM Revenue and Customs, with contracts for nine of the 13 regional centres having been signed so far.


Such a move would also fulfil a Conservative manifesto pledge to shift more government functions and arm’s-length bodies out to the regions. “We will start moving significant numbers of UK government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK,” it stated.

“We will ensure that senior posts move too, so that operational headquarters as well as administrative functions are centred not in London but around Britain. And we will do so in a way that encourages the development of new clusters of public services, private businesses and, where appropriate, universities.”

The Cabinet Office plan also confirmed the launch of the Government Property Agency is set for April 2018, and said it would look to “secure agreement to the progressive transfer of non-specialist assets from government departments”.

The GPA is intended to provide asset management services across the government’s portfolio in order to cut operating costs as more departments move into the planned hubs.

However, HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee last month that the business plan for the GPA was "maturing but had not yet been approved" by the Treasury. Thompson indicated that if the agency was not approved then HMRC would run the 13 regional hubs that it is creating as part of a controversial office closures programme itself, rather than transfer them centrally.

Elsewhere, the Cabinet Office plan pledged to increase civil service commercial capability by setting out “a future shared services strategy and roadmap for government that takes into account existing contractual arrangements, future needs, potential savings to be achieved and suitable technical solutions for shared services”. It also committed to building the capability of the commercial function by centrally recruiting, training and integrating accredited departmental specialists in the Cabinet Office sponsored central Government Commercial Organisation and to work more with arm’s-length bodies to develop and accredit their commercial teams.

The strategy also highlighted the need to “improve the capability of the civil service to understand devolution and sustain and strengthen the union” and pledged to drive policy innovation across government by delivering “a range of innovative projects that have a demonstrable impact both on policy outcomes and the capability of civil servants in new policy-making methods”.

Moves to create a “Brilliant Civil Service” would be supported by attracting a more diverse pool of talent and the implementation of a more streamlined and transparent recruitment process that improves the candidate experience, the strategy said. This includes overhauling the competency based approach in recruitment and promotion, and launching a new career website, according to the plan.

Last month's Civil Service People Survey revealed that less than half of those polled were aware of the flagship vision to create a ‘Brilliant Civil Service’.

Publishing the Single Departmental Plans for all of government yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore said they “show how departments are working to deliver the government’s programme”.

He added: “Single Departmental Plans are important tools for transparency and accountability. They allow the public to track the government’s progress and performance against a number of indicators. They also indicate which ministers and senior officials are responsible for delivering each objective.”

Responding to the publication of the plans, Gavin Freeguard, associate director and head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government, said they represented “a huge improvement on their predecessors”.

He added: “They offer a much better sense of prioritisation and consistent planning across government.

"There is still some way to go – the plans should link spending to priorities and give a sense of whether the government has enough people with the right skills and experience to deliver."

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