Move 25,000 civil servants out of London to boost devolution, says think-tank

4 Aug 16

Moving civil servants out of London is needed to promote greater innovation and productivity in public services, Policy Exchange has claimed today.

The think-tank has today released a report urging ministers to move 25,000 civil servants out of London and into city regions and local authorities in order to “turbo charge” devolution.

A series of government devolution deals have been agreed with cities in the region of the Northern Powerhouse including Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, and the North East and Tees Valley.

However, today’s Delivering Differently paper argued these dynamics have not gone far enough. By redistributing civil servants to the regions, decision-makers would be closer to the people affected by policies, and assist local authorities in managing their newly devolved powers.

Backing further devolution, the report stated there was no one-size-fits-all solution to many issues around unemployment, housing, increasing wages, and social care. Instead, a bottom-up approach was needed instead to tackle long-standing problems in welfare, health, crime, justice and education.

In addition, a host of public sector organisations, including prisons and hospitals, should be given greater spending autonomy. New “budget flexibilities” would allow local places to experiment with ‘invest to save’ financing models, while local areas should also be given full autonomy over public sector pay.

Moreover, the government should pave the way for a new public sector ‘innovation bill’ that laid down the legal basis for policy experimentation, which could minimise the number of delays and failures in government projects.

Policy Exchange research fellow Damian Hind, who authored the report, said: “Our top-down and centralised system of government makes it difficult to deliver the type of radical public service reforms needed to increase growth and living standards across Britain.

“More decent, human and caring services will only be achieved by changing the mind-set of policy makers in Westminster, breaking down the outdated ‘Sir Humphrey’ model of government and putting local places firmly in control.”

Around 20,000 civil servants were moved out of London between 2004 and 2010, in the wake of the Lyons review commissioned by the government. Subsequent reviews have suggested the number of civil servants in London should be reduced by one third.

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