HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc82-5W
60. Mr. G. Johnson Smith

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the dispersal of Government work from London in the light of the report by Sir Gilbert Flemming.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In answer to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on 25th February, I explained that Sir Gilbert Flemming had been asked to undertake a comprehensive review of the work of Government Departments located in London and to make recommendations as to which of them might be moved from London in whole or in part. Sir Gilbert Flemming has now completed his review and the Government have decided in the light of it that substantial moves out of London should be carried out. The matter is inevitably complicated and my reply is therefore very long.

The following is the reply:

Sir Gilbert Flemming's report brings out very clearly the complexity of the problem, and in particular that while in the interests of efficiency much work must remain in central London, some can move to the periphery, other work can move to some one or two hours journey from central London, and for some it is possible for a move to a much greater distance to take place. The working out of the details of this programme will depend on further discussions on timing and location; but the House will wish to know the broad outlines of how we propose to carry this forward in the light of Sir Gilbert Flemming's report.

The background to the problem is that the concentration in the central London area gives rise to very serious problems. Office rents are high and increasing, transport services are overstrained, large numbers of workers are subjected to severe strain, and sensible placing of our social and material resources is made more difficult. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government made it clear in the White Paper "London: Employment: Housing: Land" which was presented to Parliament in February (Cmnd. 1952) that the Government felt that a combined effort was required to check the growth of office employment in the central London area, in the interests both of reasonable planning, and the health and welfare of those who live and work in the London area.

Mr. right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General proposes to move out of London the Post Office Savings Bank which employs 7,500 people. We also envisage a number of smaller moves affecting various Departments under which, in total, some 6,000 will be moved out of London. Thirdly, we contemplate moving some 4,500 staff from the centre of London to the periphery.

These measures will be in addition to existing plans for moving some 7,000 staff right out of London. Of a total of some 133,000 staff in the headquarters of Government Departments, about 31,000 are already out of London. The plans already agreed, and those which I have announced today, will bring this total up to about 52,000. In addition, over 12,000 of the remainder will be outside the central London area.

A number of other possible moves have been suggested but these require further study. Sir Gilbert Flemming felt himself precluded from making any major recommendations affecting the Defence Departments in view of the forthcoming defence reorganisation; but the possibility of dispersing some of the staffs away from central London will be further considered as soon as practicable.

Many of the moves for practical reasons will be either to the London periphery or to places up to two hours travelling time from central London. But there is no reason why the Post Office Savings Bank should be kept so close to London; and on present plans it should also be possible to move 800–1,000 staff from other Departments well away from London. We shall give special consideration in respect of these moves to the possibilities of moving to areas of relatively high unemployment.

For a number of reasons the programme of dispersal will necessarily be spaced out over a number of years. We shall of course be consulting the appropriate Staff Sides about the destinations to be chosen and other detailed matters. We shall also seek the help of local authorities in areas to which it is intended to move work. Time will be needed to acquire sites and build or acquire the necessary accommodation. We shall hope to find volunteers for the moves from London; and as far as possible we shall recruit staff in the new areas. We regard it as essential to do everything possible to avoid, or reduce, individual hardship, and in the cases where individuals are required to move the normal allowances will be payable.

As was made clear in Cmnd. 1952, there is an urgent need for private firms also to decentralise some of their office work from London. The Government have set up the Location of Offices Bureau with the objects of encouraging and helping private industry and commerce to consider how they might do this, and I very much hope that the firms concerned will give serious consideration in their own interests, the interests of their staff, and of the country as a whole to making a contribution to decentralisation of office work from London. The circumstances of each firm vary. But I am sure that there is much that can be done on this. In addition my right hon. Friends who are responsible for relations with the nationalised industries are asking them to consider similarly moving out of London some of the work which they at present do there.

The Government are grateful to Sir Gilbert Flemming; his advice, which in broad outline we accept, will enable us to make a vigorous and sensible move

Non-Industrial Staff in the Civil Service (including the Post Office)
At 1st April (Thousands) Total Salaries and Wages £ millions
Increase/ Decrease over previous year (of which Post Office staff)
1951 675.4 -9.4 248.9 298 year ending 30th September
1952 684.0 +8.6 252.6 339
1953 666.1 -17.9 249.6 350
1954 654.8 -11.3 247.9 364
1955 635.7 -19.1 247.8 386
1956 638.8 +3.1 252.3 395 year ending 31st March
1957 635.7 -3.1 251.6 439
1958 630.7 -5.0 253.1 467
1959 632.9 +2.2 254.9 484
1960 637.4 +4.5 254.9 520
1961 650.2 +12.8 261.0 552
1962 669.8 +19.6 272.9 598
1963 688.1 +18.3 275.6 Not yet available.
(The numbers of staff are published in the Annual Abstract of Statistics and in the Monthly Digest of Statistics.)

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