Move Whitehall departments to the North, suggests MP

MAJOR Government departments such as health and education should be moved out of Whitehall and into Yorkshire’s largest cities to help address the “regional inequalities” which persist across Britain, a Labour MP has said.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield complained the coalition had done little in last week’s Budget to support the Northern economy, and called on entire departments to be shifted “lock, stock and barrel” to the North.

Yorkshire is already home to a sizeable numbers of civil servants via outreach arms and agencies of various Government departments and their quangos.

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But Mr Blomfield said it was time for Whitehall to go much further if it is serious about rebalancing the economy in favour of the North.

Speaking in the Commons, he said: “The Government should use the levers of public sector employment to address the regional imbalance. They should move departments, not just minor agencies, out of London.

“Why cannot the Department for Education move lock, stock and barrel to Sheffield? Let us move the Department of Health to Leeds. Let us take the Department for Work and Pensions to Hull.”

The Labour MP said such steps would give a massive economic boost to the regions, and finally change the Whitehall-centric policy-making which has dominated Britain for decades. “Moving Departments of State to the regions would not just provide economic benefits, but would ensure policies were no longer shaped by people who live and work in London, and who see everything through the prism of the metropolis,” he said.

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The MP also claimed the radical shift would be a positive step for people living in the capital.

“Moving departments out of London would be good not only for the regions, but for London,” he said. “For evidence of that, we need only ask those who are struggling to rent or buy in the overheated housing market in the capital.”

Mr Blomfield said progress in moving civil servants into the regions had proceeded when Labour were in power but “halted” under the present Government.

“Moving departments out of London is not a new idea,” he said. “It was pioneered by the Labour Government in the 70s. I remember the Manpower Services Commission coming to Sheffield as a result of a Government decision in 1976. More progress was made under the last Labour Government. That progress has halted under this Government.”

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Conservative Ministers have rejected the idea, however, insisting the coalition’s focus is on rebalancing the national economy by shifting jobs away from the public sector altogether.

Comment: Page 12.