London-centric civil service 'cannot claim to represent UK', says Ruth Davidson

Scottish Conservative leader calls on government to fulfil manifesto pledges to move “significant numbers” of civil servants out of Whitehall

Ruth Davidson speaks to the Conservative Party conference. Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

03 Oct 2017

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives says more government workers need to be based outside London for the civil service to be able to claim to represent the whole of the UK.

In a speech to the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester, Ruth Davidson, who leads the party in the Scottish Parliament that is in opposition to the Scottish National Party government, said that the imbalance between London and the rest of the UK was “getting crazy”.

She said that despite devolution to Scotland and Wales in the past 20 years, and more recent moves to boost the powers of English local government, the UK continues to be far too London-centric.


She highlighted that, compared to other global capitals, only Moscow accounts for a greater share of national economic output than London, while the capitals of Germany and the US do not dominate national life to the same extent.

“We live in a country where the property values of London’s top 10 boroughs are worth more than all of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales combined,” she said. 

“Where, in a capital city already zooming forward on the jet fuel of high finance, the economy is further boosted by enough civil servants to fill Wembley.”

In particular, Davidson said more government workers should be outside London in order “spread more of our union outside the capital”.

She added: “If our civil service and cultural bodies are to claim to be UK institutions, they must be present across our whole United Kingdom.”

The Conservative Party’s manifesto at June’s general election pledged to “move significant numbers of UK government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK”.

This was to include senior roles and operational headquarters as well as administrative functions, and was intended to ensure that major cities shared in opportunities that the party said had “for too long” been focused in London.

Davidson called on the government to fulfil the plans to “spread more of our union outside the capital [and] to see our great metropolitan cities have a larger share in the government of our country”.

She also confirmed that the government is reviewing the location of a host of agencies currently based in London to see which ones could be ready for a move.  

Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore has previously told CSW that, in addition to triennial reviews of the location of existing agencies, the more than 20 new public bodies likely to be created as a result of Brexit would be placed outside London

Davidson said she wanted to “seize the opportunity” to ensure more civil service jobs come to Scotland.

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