Thousands of UK civil servants from the Treasury and other London-based government departments are set to move to northern England and the Midlands under plans by Boris Johnson to shake up the Whitehall machine.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister is seeking to accelerate his efforts to decentralise the UK government and “level up” the country by tackling regional inequalities.
He wants to relocate 22,000 civil service jobs from central London to the regions by 2030.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is proposing a new northern campus for the Treasury — dubbed Treasury North — that could be located in Leeds, Newcastle or Teesside, according to people briefed on the plans.
The northern campus would initially house 750 civil servants drawn from the Treasury’s 1,400 London-based staff as well as officials working for other Whitehall ministries, added these people.
Mr Sunak hopes to make an announcement in the coming weeks — possibly alongside his March 3 Budget — and the Treasury’s departmental outpost is expected to be established before the next election.
Some parts of the Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government would move to the Treasury North campus, but another chunk would shift to a new base in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands.
Half of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s 450 staff in London are due to move to Manchester, where the BBC and ITV have a significant presence, by 2025-26.
The Ministry of Justice, Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence are also due to announce plans to move staff out of Whitehall, while the Foreign Office is considering proposals for a Manchester base.
People briefed on the plans said senior civil service roles would move to the new departmental outposts in the regions. Ministers will also be expected to spend a significant portion of their time in the offices.
One Whitehall official said “no decisions” had been taken on whether the top civil servants running Whitehall departments would be based in the outposts. “Everyone is clear this will have to involve senior people,” said one official.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister who is overseeing the shake-up of the government machine, has insisted the plans must involve new rather than existing locations.
Mr Sunak has been examining a location on Teesside for the Treasury’s northern campus but is also said to be considering a move to one of the region’s big cities.
Although Teesside remains an option, one Conservative MP representing a northern constituency claimed that many Whitehall officials would prefer to work in a city like Leeds or Newcastle rather than a town such as Darlington.
“Officials in London all want to work in cities like Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle because they have better cultural life,” said the MP.
But Ben Houchen, Tory mayor for Tees Valley, warned that establishing Treasury North in a northern city would not deliver on the promise to help so-called red wall constituencies that the Conservatives seized from Labour at the 2019 election.
“Treasury North needs to come to Teesside,” he said. “The Cabinet Office has done the work to show it’ll be a success and Rishi is behind it. But if he’s forced by the civil service to swap one metropolitan city for another, we might as well not bother. The Conservatives won’t be thanked for it — Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle are not the red wall.”
The Treasury said “no decision has been taken” on the location of its new outpost. Staff surveys have suggested there is great enthusiasm for the idea, whatever the location.
Officials have spoken of the lower cost of living and cleaner environment if they move out of central London.
Aside from the Treasury’s northern campus, Mr Sunak is scouting locations for the government’s proposed new national infrastructure bank, which is also due to be based in the north, according to government insiders. It may be in a different location to the Treasury outpost.
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.”