Treasury should move to Leeds and DEFRA relocate to York, says Northern Policy Foundation think-tank

A former Number 10 pollster says voters in Yorkshire and the North still need to be convinced that moving 22,000 civil service jobs out of London will have a positive impact on their lives.

New polling for the Northern Policy Foundation think-tank finds widespread support, especially among people in so-called 'red wall' areas, for the relocation of civil servants announced by Rishi Sunak last year.

But the organisation says the Government should be more ambitious and has identified 49,500 civil service roles for possible relocation with a potential positive economic impact of nearly £3bn a year.

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New polling for the Northern Policy Foundation think-tank finds widespread support, especially among people in so-called 'red wall' areas, for the relocation of civil servants announced by Rishi Sunak last year. Picture is of Leeds city centre.

It calls for the Treasury to be moved to Leeds and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to be moved to York along with the Environment Agency, which already has a base in the city.

James Johnson, co-founder of J.L. Partners anda former pollster at 10 Downing Street, carried out the polling of more than 1,400 adults in the North and said the idea of relocating parts of government departments to the North "gets strong, cross-party support".

He added: "It is seen to have a positive impact on the North and to help close the gap between the regions of England.

“But voters still need to be convinced it will have an impact on their own life, with three-quarters of people in the North saying they will not see a personal, positive impact from relocation plans.

"And this is even lower amongst those who are the most squeezed financially, as well as unskilled blue-collar workers – so key to the Conservative win in 2019.”

In his Budget last March, Chancellor and North Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak said the Government wants to move 22,000 civil servants out of central London by 2030 to help ensure “government will make decisions differently in future”.

His plan to relocate jobs will begin with the creation of an economic campus in the North staffed by around 750 officials by departments including the Treasury, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Ministry of Housing, Communicates and Local Government

Today's poll reveals that 70 per cent of all northern voters support the move, with just three per cent opposing it.

Half of those asked said they thought the move would have a positive impact on public services and 69 per cent on the North as a whole.

But asked what kind of impact it would have on their own lives, only 21 per cent said positive, three per cent said negative and 75 per cent said 'neither' or 'don't know'.

Separately, new research by the NPF suggests where key Whitehall departments could move to in northern England as part of the Government's Places for Growth scheme.

The report assesses areas in the North on their suitability based on factors including population size, skill levels, job density, productivity levels, digital connectivity and house prices.

Based on this Leeds, already seen as the North's capital for financial services, is proposed as a new site for the Treasury and York as a location for DEFRA and the Environment Agency. Either areas suggested include Manchester, Newcastle and Stockton-on-Tees.

NPF director Mr Lees, who wrote the report with Dr Sam Turnpenney, a former NASA data scientist, said: “The Civil Service, particularly the senior ranks, is in need of significant reform. It lacks diversity of thought, background and life experience.

"The government’s recent announcements are a good first step but lack ambition and are in danger of taking too long and running out of steam.

“Changes need to be made at pace with strong coordination from No 10 and the Cabinet office if the institutional resistance from top of the Civil Service is to be overcome.

“Moving Whitehall mandarins and roles out of London allows for recruitment of local people with different backgrounds who are hopefully more in tune with what the public thinks.

"Given the proliferation of Zoom, Teams and other technology there is no real need to be in close physical proximity.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Decision makers should be close to the people they serve and we want to see opportunity, jobs and investment fairly distributed across the country.

“That’s why we’ve committed to relocating Civil Service roles out of central London, building on the thousands of civil servants we already have working across the United Kingdom.

"This will strengthen the Union, spread opportunity more equally and transform diversity of thought in the Civil Service.”