Move 25,000 civil servants out of London to turbo charge devolution

Damian Hind

Economic & Social Policy Research Fellow

A more productive and innovative public sector will only be achieved if the new government ends the outdated Sir Humphrey model of Government and puts local people in control

As many as one third (25,000) of London-based civil servants should be relocated to city regions and local authorities if the new government wants to boost productivity and innovation in public service delivery.

A new Policy Exchange report, Delivering Differently, argues for a bottom-up and localised approach to solving longstanding challenges in welfare, health, criminal justice and education. The paper says that there is an inherent tension between Westminster’s desire to get something done and the lack of simple, one-size fits all solutions to issues such as unemployment, housing, increasing wages and addressing mental and physical health issues. While the Government has already made some progress in devolving powers to local authorities, it has not gone anywhere near far enough. Redistributing the Civil Service to all corners of the country will turbo charge devolution, bringing decision-makers closer to the people and help to address concerns about the capability of local authorities to manage new powers.

The report says that the government could have made more effective progress in delivering a 7-day NHS if it approached the issue from a local rather than national perspective. It highlights one NHS Trust in Northumbria that has had a 7-day NHS service arrangement since 2004. The Trust was able to negotiate a 7-day rota agreement with consultants within the existing contract precisely because it was managed small-scale. The changes were not imposed from on high and the doctors saw for themselves the need to change resourcing requirements to even out the service. Pragmatic bargaining was made much easier: consultants working in some specialities have continued with the old arrangements where it was felt a 7 day presence was not needed and for the majority who have moved to extended working at the weekend, the workload has evened out and they are less frequently on call outside of hospital hours.

The report says that the Government will only ever achieve effective reforms to the public sector if it similarly encourages change to develop locally and from the bottom-up. A key element of achieving this new approach is to ensure that every part of the country has talented civil servants who can innovate and drive efficiency improvements.

The report sets out a number of other ideas to deliver a more productive state including:

·         Separating the Treasury’s budgeting function from its economic and financial responsibilities, ending the current system of top-down and short-term budgeting, as well as introducing new budget flexibilities that allow local places to experiment with ‘invest to save’ financing models.

·         Public sector organisations such as schools and prisons should be able to set their own budgets, opt-out of national guidelines or contracts and set their own delivery models

·         Local areas should be given full autonomy over public sector pay so they can alter national terms and conditions.

·         The Government should pave the way for a Public Sector Innovation Bill that creates a new legal basis for experimentation in policy to minimise the number of delays and failures in Government projects.

Damian Hind, author of the report, said:

“Our top down and centralised system of government makes it difficult for any political party to deliver the type of radical public service reforms needed to increase growth and living standards across Britain.

“Change still seems to start with diktats from Whitehall. If we truly want to create public services that help people to live independent and fulfilling lives then we need to think differently about how we design and deliver services. More decent, human and caring services will only be achieved by changing the mind-set of policymakers in Westminster, breaking down the outdated Sir Humphrey model of Government and putting local places firmly in control.”



Notes to editors

1.       Around 20,000 Civil Servants moved out of London between 2004 and 2010 following the Government-commissioned Lyons review into Civil Service relocation. A 2010 follow up of that review, led by Iain R Smith, said that the long-term goal should be to reduce the number of Civil Servants in London by one third.

2.       There are currently around 80,000 Civil Servants in London. Over 70% of Senior Civil Servants are currently located in London. Devolving one third of the current Civil Service would require the transfer of around 25,000 Civil Servants or their headcount allocation to city regions and Local Authorities over the rest of this Parliament and the start of the next.

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