One of the government’s top priorities for civil service reform is to relocate civil servants outside of London. The government’s reform plan, the Declaration on Government Reform, committed to moving 22,000 civil servants, including 50% of the SCS, outside of London by 2030.
It also stated that “Ministers will…spend more time out of London, working with teams wherever they are based.” In the Levelling Up white paper, more than 15,700 roles across 15 central government departments and public bodies were announced to be moving by 2030. New public bodies are being established outside of London by default.
The government has given three main reasons why it wants to relocate civil servants. They are to:
- allow talented people who do not want to live or work in London to contribute more effectively to the civil service
- economically ‘level up’ deprived areas by relocating public sector jobs to those parts of the country
- shift what it perceives as civil servants’ ‘urban metropolitan’ mindsets by encouraging them to experience life in non-metropolitan areas.
For the Institute for Government’s view on these three aims, see Moving Out and Whitehall Monitor 2022.
What is the history of civil service relocation?
The civil service’s London-centric distribution is a long-standing, well-known problem and attempts to relocate officials around the UK is a recurring theme in the history of civil service reform.
As far back as the 1968 Fulton Report, a civil service reform plan produced by a committee chaired by Lord Fulton, the civil service was identified as being too London-centric. Fulton argued that “the Administrative Class of the Civil Service has been on easy and familiar terms…with London, less so with the regions” and that there was not ”enough awareness of how the world outside Whitehall works”. It was seen as ”desirable” for the civil service to become more geographically representative.
During the 2000s, two reports called for the civil service to become less London-centric. The 2004 Lyons Review argued that “national public sector activity is concentrated in and around London to an extent which is inconsistent with Government objectives” while the 2010 Smith Review argued there was “scope for further relocation and a continuing rebalancing of activity between central London in particular and the rest of the country…to achieve a proper balance between London and the rest of the UK.”[5,6]
Michael Gove’s Ditchley Lecture, given in June 2020 while he was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, argued that there would be a host of beneficial effects from “reduc[ing] the distance between Government and people by relocating Government decision-making centres to different parts of our United Kingdom.” June 2021’s Declaration on Government Reform called for more civil servants, including senior ones, to work outside of London.
Where do UK civil servants work?
As of March 2022, there were 510,080 people employed in the home civil service, across the UK and overseas*. Of these, 104,830 (21%) were based in London – an increase of almost 3,000 since March 2021 and 13,170 since March 2020. The capital remains the region with by far the most civil servants, with 40,530 more than the North West, in second place.
*This figure is in headcount, and is therefore higher than the number we use in our staff numbers explainer which is in full-time equivalent staff.
Most civil servants in the UK are based in England. There are 37,900 civil servants based in Wales, of whom just over 6,000 work for the Welsh government. There are 51,020 civil servants based in Scotland, of whom around 25,000 work for the Scottish government.
What civil service jobs are there in different parts of the country?
The majority of senior civil servants work in London. The capital has over 10 times more senior civil servants than Scotland and the South West (the regions with the next highest numbers of senior civil servants). However, the overall proportion of the SCS that work in London fell from 67% in 2021 to 62% in 2022. While the SCS remains London-centric, this reflects progress made on the Declaration on Government Reform’s ambition for 50% of the SCS to be based outside the capital by 2030.
The regional distribution of civil servants in Grades 6 and 7 is marked by a similar concentration in London. Civil servants at lower grades (in Administrative Officer/Administrative Assistant and Executive Officer roles) are more evenly distributed across the UK.
The mix of different civil service professions also varies by region. Cross-departmental specialist roles – including policy, economics and HR – make up at least one in five civil service jobs, but they constitute almost half of the London-based civil service work force. London is the most policy-focused region, with 20% of London-based civil servants belonging to the policy profession. The region with the next highest proportion of policy officials is Wales, where 6% of civil servants are in policy roles. Overall, 68% of all policy-focused civil servants are based in London – down from 72% last year, but still reflecting the deeply London-centric nature of the profession.
The region with the next highest proportion of policy officials is Wales, where 5% of civil servants are in policy roles. Overall, 72% of all policy-focused civil servants are based in London.
Where are different departments based?
Departments like the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), the Treasury (HMT) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) are largely based in London. As part of the Places for Growth programme, however, these and other notably London-centric departments have begun moving staff out of the capital. DCMS’s ministerial department had 96% of its staff based in London in 2021, which fell to 89% in 2022. Both HMT and DIT have been moving staff to the Darlington Economic Campus, which now has over 70 DIT officials and 100 HMT staff.
Other departments have their staff more evenly spread across the regions. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). And some departments have a particular concentration of staff in certain regions. For example, the Department for Transport (DfT) in Wales, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the South West.
How has the location of civil servants changed since 2010?
Regions outside London have experienced the deepest staff reduction since 2010, with numbers falling by 26% in the East of England and 20% in the South East. London has grown by 21% since 2010 – along with Wales (7% growth) it is the only region with more civil servants in 2022 than it had in 2010.
How is the location of civil servants planned to change under the Johnson government?
The government has announced more than 15,700 roles across 15 central government departments and public bodies will be moving by 2030. According to the Levelling Up white paper, the vast majority of these are scheduled to move by 2025.
- Cabinet Office, Modernisation and Reform, and Civil Service, Declaration on Government Reform, 15 June 2021, www.gov.uk/government/publications/declaration-on-government-reform/declaration-on-government-reform
- Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Levelling Up the United Kingdom, February 2022, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1052706/Levelling_Up_WP_HRES.pdf
- Malnick E and Diver T, ‘Broken civil service “full of urban metropolitan thinkers”’, The Telegraph, 3 October 2020, retrieved 13 October 2020, www.telegraph.co.uk/ news/2020/10/03/uk-civil-service-broken-says-whitehall-reform-minister
- Lyons M, Well Placed to Deliver? Shaping the Pattern of Government Service, March 2004, www.civilservant.org.uk/library/2004-Lyons-full_report.pdf
- Smith I, Relocation: transforming where and how government works, March 2010, http://downloads2.dodsmonitoring.com/downloads/Budgets/Budget_2010/Supplementarydocuments/budget2010_smith_review.pdf
- Cabinet Office, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, “The privilege of public service” given as the Ditchley Annual Lecture, speech, 1 July 2020, www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-privilege-of-public-service-given-as-the-ditchley-annual-lecture