HC Deb 10 March 1986 vol 93 cc663-4
47. Mr. Chapman

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement about the Government's current policy with regard to the geographic dispersal of the places of work of the home Civil Service.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office and Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

The Government's current policy is to complete the dispersal programme announced on 26 July 1979. It is also the Government's policy that, whenever location of new Government work or relocation of existing work is being considered, full account is taken of regional needs.

Mr. Chapman

With the new technologies in communication and better communication networks, as instanced by the pending completion of the M25, does my hon. Friend agree that today there is a better case and increased prospects for agreement on moving more civil servants out of the congestion and expense of central London? Will he bear that in mind in framing future policies, recognising that today only about 13 per cent. of home civil servants have their place of work in inner London?

Mr. Luce

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments. As he implied, four out of five civil servants already work outside London. There is already a disperal programme, which the Government have still to complete. However, the cost of dispersal is substantial, and it sometimes takes up to 10 years to reap the benefits of it. That must also be considered.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Is the Minister aware that his undertaking to keep in mind the needs of the regions when new allocations of Civil Service Departments are being made will be welcomed in Cleveland? Is he aware that the Government's decision not to move the Property Services Agency to Middlesbrough devastated the prospects for the centre of that town, where a site had been prepared for it? Is he further aware that, as Cleveland has the highest level of unemployment of any county in Great Britain, it should come high on the list of areas being given consideration for new Government Departments?

Mr. Luce

As I have already said, when the Government are considering the relocation of existing work or location of new Government work regional factors are taken into account. Recent evidence of that is that we have decided to move the Data Protection Registrar's office to Wilmslow near Manchester. Indeed, plans are in hand to move the Land Registry office to a region. Therefore, regional factors are definitely taken into account.

Mr. Hickmet

In looking at regional factors, has my hon. Friend directed the attention of his officials to south Humberside? Is he aware that if unemployment in regions such as south Humberside in my constituency, where we have lost many jobs in the slim-down of the steel industry, is not taken into account, it will be many years before the unemployment problems can be resolved?

Mr. Luce

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern to see more jobs on south Humberside. Each Government Department is instructed to take regional factors into account when deciding on the relocation of existing work or the allocation of new work, so regional factors are considered.

Mr. Fallon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that some Departments in London and the south-east have difficulty in recruiting administrative, clerical and secretarial staff? Would it not be cheaper to employ and easier to recruit such staff if more secretarial work was transferred to the regions?

Mr. Luce

I appreciate that each region has its own factors to take into account in regard to recruitment. It is true that costs are very high in London and that there is a special weighting allowance, but, as I have said, four out of five—80 per cent.—of the Civil Service work outside London.

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