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  • Writer's pictureMike Spicer

The impact of the Places for Growth programme on UK civil service jobs and civil service behaviours

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

In the June 2023 roundup episode of LED Confidential, Mike and David discuss the Places for Growth programme of civil service relocation to towns and cities outside London, after the announcement that Sheffield is to host a new ‘Policy Campus’ (listen from 18.40). Here’s a Q+A based on the episode. What does it mean for civil service jobs, and potential impacts on civil service behaviours?

HM Treasury building in London

What is the Places for Growth Programme?

This is a UK government initiative to move 22,000 central government civil service roles out of London by 2030. The stated goal of the programme is to ‘utilise the vast talent pool spread across the UK, whilst ensuring that the civil service is reflective of the communities it serves.’ In other words – relocate economic activity, but also challenge existing civil service behaviors and received wisdom with out-of-London perspectives. In practice, this means setting up new facilities or ‘campuses’, either for specialised functions or as ‘mini-Whitehalls’ occupied by multiple departments. Examples include the Manchester First Street Hub, the DLUHC office at i9 in Wolverhampton, and a new ‘policy campus’ in Sheffield.

Should other places aim to land central government facilities as part of their growth plans?

The location of civil servants across the UK matters because of their substantial numbers (over half a million in total) and their spending power. This alone makes proposed new facilities attractive targets for inward investment into places. But unlike other sectors, this type of location decision can also impact decision-making in government: there are substantial variations in the seniority of civil service populations across the country, with the share of London civil servants in senior positions nearly three times higher than the national average. The current Places for Growth plan is unlikely to make much of a dent in this disparity – it involves relocating a relatively modest number, which gets smaller when the recent growth in London-based civil service roles is taken into account.

What considerations should be made when relocating civil service jobs?

Relocating civil service jobs requires thoughtful evaluation. Questions arise regarding the number of campuses, how these impact organisational effectiveness, the impact of hybrid work arrangements, and the potential closures of existing facilities as part of planned efficiency drives across the public sector.

What challenges arise during civil service relocations?

Gaining senior civil servant buy-in is crucial for successful relocations. They can be highly-disruptive for existing staff and senior-level concerns for their welfare are real and significant. Past relocations have run into HR issues, such as recruitment and retention, due to these concerns.

Are there any notable examples to learn from?

The Institute for Government's recent report on the Darlington Economic Campus raises important questions, but is not a full evaluation. Realistically, it could take many years before a clear picture emerges. This is why it is important to examine long-standing cases, such as the former Department for International Development’s presence in East Kilbride: this could provide valuable insights for future relocations and local economic development.


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