‘Levelling Up’ — delivering the Civil Service’s ‘second headquarters’ in Glasgow

Melinda Johnson, Commercial Director at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), outlines how Glasgow’s new office will provide significant opportunities in Scotland’s biggest city
"We’ve got fast-track programmes for every profession that you could imagine,” Johnson tells Proxima


You hold a key role in the Places for Growth programme, which aims to spread Civil Service functions across the whole of the UK. Can you tell us more about Places for Growth and your role?

I am Commercial Director at the DHSC, dual located in Leeds and Glasgow, and I am employed by the Cabinet Office’s Government Commercial Function.

There is a momentum within government to ‘level up’ the regions, and part of that involves creating Civil Service roles outside London. We want people across the whole United Kingdom to be able to consider the Civil Service as a real career option. As such, we’re working on developing a pipeline of talent within – and into – key centres. Glasgow is one of the key centres of focus. The Glasgow office is so important that it’s been dubbed the ‘Cabinet Office Second HQ’.

Throughout my career, I have been promoting the regions and I still advocate for Leeds, another place in which we are driving civil service growth. For example, I created the Government Commercial Function Northern Hub to enable the commercial talent to flourish in the north. I seized the opportunity to support the promotion of Glasgow as the Civil Service’s second headquarters – it’s a city that I love and have a personal connection with. I want to take the success we’ve had in the North of England and recreate that in Glasgow. 

Why is Glasgow such a key focus?

As we all know, London has traditionally been the place where civil servants can best advance their careers. The Places for Growth programme intends to enable people to pursue their careers in places other than London. It is about retaining the skills developed in the nations and regions in those places, instead of people feeling the need to move within commutable distance of London to move forward with their careers. London can pose barriers to social mobility, yet other places like Glasgow are magnificent cities, providing all the same resources and life benefits that London offers, yet at a lower cost of living.

We’ve got a fantastic new base on the waterfront at the Atlantic Quay in Glasgow. The objective of the headquarters is to facilitate and enable a pipeline of talent into the civil service in Glasgow, where civil servants can reach their full potential.

How are you building the Glasgow base?

Lyn MacDonald and David Foley, two Cabinet Office directors, are making this ambition a reality, and I am working alongside them with many others, to create networks across the wider public sector - and private sector - in Scotland to drive this this vision forward.

We are engaging young people by reaching out to the universities in Glasgow, further education colleges and schools, and promoting the Cabinet Office and civil service to people who have not yet considered public service as a career option.

We’ve got fast-track programmes for every profession that you could imagine across government, from Human Resources (HR) to finance, digital to property. They all come with professional qualifications at the end. We’ve also got apprenticeship programmes, internships, shadowing opportunities, and more, so we’re focussed on getting the word out to people in and around Glasgow that there are opportunities right here, right now.

This speaks to the UK Government’s social mobility agenda and accords with the recently published Government Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Strategy that highlights Places for Growth as a means of levelling up opportunities.

How can the civil service community support Places for Growth?

We’re passionate about levelling up the UK, but it’s going to take a team effort. We are passionate about making the second headquarters a centre of excellence for corporate functions and policy making. So, we need influential decision-makers up and down the country to recruit their teams into the places for growth, not just London. I’d encourage leaders across the industry to support the Places for Growth agenda and create career paths for your people in the UK regions and help remove the barriers that prevent development opportunities outside London.

We particularly welcome people moving to Glasgow or enabling their teams to work in Glasgow. We want to create an integrated civil service community in Glasgow around the Cabinet Office headquarters. It is a vibrant, dynamic place where people can move across departments to pursue their careers and seek development opportunities across the wider public sector in Glasgow.

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