Top civil servant ‘misled MPs’ over Sheffield jobs

MP Iain Wright
MP Iain Wright
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PLANS TO cut top civil service jobs in Sheffield must be abandoned after a senior mandarin is criticised by MPs for giving ‘misleading’ answers over the decision.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Martin Donnelly, has come under fire from two Commons committees which investigate Government spending over his decision to close the department’s Sheffield office with the loss of 200 jobs.

Mr Donnelly wants to move the work to London but Business Select Committee chair Iain Wright said his justification for abandoning the South Yorkshire city has so far “not been good enough”.

He took aim at the top Whitehall mandarin’s latest appearance infront of MPs where he was unable to provide detailed costs for the move.

Mr Wright said: “It’s not good enough. You can’t close an office with the potential disruption and the possibility of redundancies of several hundred jobs in the North and replace those positions in London without a very substantial and detailed case and business rationale. The Permanent Secretary who is responsible for public funds are used in an appropriate way was not able to provide that to my committee and that’s not just good enough.”

He said it would be “disgraceful” if the costings did not exist, and if nothing has been worked out the jobs relocation must “consider the whole approach”.

New information handed to Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield Business Minister Jo Johnson shows the annual rent, rates and maintenance figure per employee at St Paul’s Place, Sheffield is £3,190 compared to the annual cost per employee at the Department for BIS which is £9,750.

Paul Blomfield MP said: “This is a half-truth when we want the full story. It’s not just how much Sheffield costs, but how much more expensive it will be to move those posts to London. So far we’ve discovered that, in rent, rates and maintenance alone, it’s going to be an extra £1.6m a year. After salary and other costs it could be around £2.5 million.”

The chairs of the Business, Innovation and Skills and Public Accounts Committees have written to Martin Donnelly asking to see documents relating to the closure of the Sheffield office.

The letter said information provided by Mr Donnelly relating to the reorganisation of the Department has been “wholly unsatisfactory” with answers in oral evidence “obfuscatory, if not misleading”.

It is understood that he will be expected to have produced the figures by next Wednesday when he appears once again infront of the Public Accounts Committee.

Ms Hillier said: “The Government must be held properly to account for its decisions and use of public money. In this case, effective scrutiny is being undermined by the Department’s most senior civil servant.

“Taxpayers deserve better from those working on their behalf. We expect the Permanent Secretary to respond swiftly and with clarity on the points of concern raised by our committees, which includes releasing the information we have requested. Only then can the decision to close the BIS Sheffield office be properly scrutinised.”

Don Valley MP Caroline Flint said who sits on the Public Accounts Committee said: “When the BIS Permanent Secretary cannot even produce the costs of different scenarios for closing the BIS office in Sheffield and transferring staff to London it beggars belief.

“If the senior civil servant cannot produce clear figures, the Government has failed to make it case for the closure and should look again.”