Gove mangles Places for Growth figures in speech gaffe

Levelling up secretary tells conference "20,000 senior posts" have already relocated north
Michael Gove speaking at the Convention of the North event in Manchester. Photo:: GaryRobertsphotography/Alamy Live News

By Jim Dunton

27 Jan 2023

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove has wrongly told a major gathering of politicians and business leaders that the government’s drive to relocate civil service jobs away from the capital has already seen “20,000 senior posts” moved north.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities acknowledged the secretary of state “misspoke” in the speech, delivered to the Convention of the North event in Manchester on Wednesday.

After CSW queried the figures, a DLUHC spokesperson confirmed that Gove had meant to refer to the relocations planned under the Places for Growth programme, which aims to move 22,000 civil service roles away from the capital by 2030.

In his half-hour speech, Gove listed some of the new departmental outposts that have opened since 2019 – when he was appointed secretary of state at the Cabinet Office in Boris Johnson’s first cabinet. But he went on to suggest that significantly more progress has been made with the Places for Growth relocations than recent figures demonstrate, and claimed those roles were senior-grade.

“In the past, a disproportionate number of the key decision-making roles within the UK government and the civil service were located not just in the capital but in one postcode. That has changed,” Gove told the event.

“The Treasury has established a new campus in Darlington, staffed by senior officials and recruiting locally. The economic strategists of the nation now increasingly have those in manufacturing and the renewables sector as their neighbours – not hedge funders and pressure groups.

“We have also established second headquarters for my own department in Wolverhampton, for the Cabinet Office in Glasgow and for the NHS in Leeds alongside establishing a Home Office centre of excellence in Stoke and a new cyber-defence establishment in Samlesbury near Preston.

“So far 20,000 senior posts have been relocated out of London to the north in the Places for Growth programme with more to follow.”

The Cabinet Office is the department responsible for the Places for Growth programme. CSW asked for its latest numbers following Gove’s speech. It said more than 8,300 “civil and public service” roles had been relocated away from London since March 2020 – with the clear implication that some of those posts would not be held by members of the civil service.

Figures published by the National Audit Office over the summer said departments had committed to a total of 15,700 relocations by 2025 and 21,500 relocations by 2030 as of May last year, while just 5,950 relocations had been completed – some 27% of the target – by the end of March 2022.

The government’s Declaration on Government Reform, signed by cabinet ministers and departmental permanent secretaries in June 2021 – when Gove was the senior Cabinet Office minister – added a commitment to make 50% of Senior Civil Service roles part of the Places for Growth target.

According to the Cabinet Office’s most recent annual statistics set, there were 7,220 civil servants at SCS grade as of the end of March last year. The data said 4,480 members of the SCS were based in the capital, meaning that around 900 SCS roles would need to leave London for a 50:50 balance with the regions and devolved nations to be achieved.

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