MPs grill Business, Innovation and Skills minister over Sheffield office closure

BIS minister Anna Soubry answers urgent question on department's decision to leave Sheffield and outlines plans for new regional centres

By Jim Dunton

29 Jan 2016

Labour MPs have criticised the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ decision to shut down its Sheffield office, claiming the move is at odds with chancellor George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” agenda.

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh today tabled an urgent question calling on business secretary Sajid Javid to explain his department’s rationale for placing around 250 jobs at the centre in jeopardy and relocating operations to London.

Haigh said the decision, which will see some roles currently based in Sheffield transferred to BIS’s central London offices, as well as the creation of six new regional centres, showed the government’s “contempt for the North”. 

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Answering on behalf of Javid, BIS minister Anna Soubry said the department’s current office locations were based on ad-hoc “legacy decisions”.

“In the future, our structures need to be designed in a more streamlined, efficient way,” she said. 

“To support this effort, we’ll bring the number of locations we operate from down from around 80 to approximately seven centres, supported by a regional footprint for work at a local level. 

“Each centre will focus on a key business activity and will bring together expertise and help to build our capability.”

Soubry said details of six new regional centres announced by BIS permanent secretary Martin Donnelly yesterday, were subject to finalisation. However she told MPs that a proposed “business-facing centre” was likely to be created in south Wales, an institutional research centre likely to be created in Swindon, and a regulation centre in Birmingham.

Soubry added that ministers were “looking very seriously” at Coventry as the location for a new BIS further education funding centre, while Darlington and Glasgow would host higher education student finance centres.

Blackpool south MP Gordon Marsden said BIS’s decision had “shifted more jobs to the chancellor’s comfort zone and exposed the empty rhetoric of his Northern Powerhouse”. 

He also questioned whether the new regional bases outlined by Soubry would be more than “ministerial postboxes”.

Soubry confirmed that BIS’s Sheffield office would close by January 2018, and that while some staff would have the opportunity to relocate to the capital, offers of voluntary redundancy would also be made.

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