Public Services > Central Government

Tory plans to move Civil Service out of Whitehall bear Labour’s hallmark

David Bicknell Published 19 May 2017

Conservative manifesto commitment to move senior posts to the regions echoes Jon Cruddas’ arguments at time of Labour digital government review


The Conservative Party’s manifesto plans to move Civil Service power out of London and into the regions bears an uncanny resemblance to some of the ideas discussed by the Labour Party’s policy review head Jon Cruddas in 2014.

Cruddas’ points were made at the time of Labour’s own digital government review and a focus on devolution in the Smith Commission report.

Yesterday’s Tory manifesto argued that, “For too long, power in Britain has been centred in London. This means opportunity has centred in London too.  It  is  time  major  cities  around  Britain  shared  in  the  government   of the United Kingdom. For our civil service and major cultural bodies to claim to be UK institutions, they need to represent and be present across our whole United Kingdom. It is also wrong that while some of our major cultural institutions have made efforts to gain a presence across the UK, others have not.

”We will put this right. Starting with the UK Government’s arm’s-length bodies, we will start moving significant numbers of UK Government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK. We will ensure that senior posts move too,  so  that  operational  headquarters  as  well  as  administrative  functions  are  centred  not  in London but around Britain.”

Back in November 2014, in a speech to the Institute for Government, Cruddas signalled the prospect of local city hubs responsible for the machinery of government.

Cruddas argued that for devolution to really work, "We need big change in Westminster and Whitehall. Renewing the United Kingdom will require a new model state for democracy and innovation. I don't mean just bolting onto the existing one. I mean let's build an entire new digital machinery of government alongside the existing state so that we can create an efficient system and transform the relationship between the citizen and the state. Digital technology provides us with the practical means."

Cruddas said that all developed economies would have no choice but to reinvent themselves to become fully digital.

"Over the next few years our largest government IT contracts will come to an end; if we want better public services and a more responsive, efficient state and substantial cost savings, this is the way to go," he said. "How do we start? Francis Maude and the Government Digital Service (GDS) have already made a start."

Cruddas argued that the need to break down silos meant breaking out of Whitehall, and he suggested instead of thinking about 'local or national', or 'centralised or decentralised', there is a need to think of 'federated' or 'networked' government.

He said, "GDS can foster a distributed network of peer institutions in our cities, networked together to become greater than the sum of their parts.

"Our cities were at the heart of the first industrial revolution, and they will drive the digital revolution. GDS city nodes will focus on transforming services in their city regions, but they could also specialise in one aspect of a new distributed UK government platform on behalf of the nation.

He suggested, "For example, Birmingham could run the pan-UK digital platform for social care, Manchester planning, Swansea motoring, Newcastle tax, Liverpool pensions. Already there are examples of collaborative procurement using this hub and spoke model. GDS, Crown Commercial Services and the Commissioning Academy can provide support. Improving services will mean that the people running them - the ministers, senior civil servants and Permanent Secretaries - will need to be close to deliverers and users.

"In the pre-digital era we needed departments in Whitehall because we moved files around on trolleys. We don't now, which means we can bring government closer to the people. Building government as a network means also introducing shared platforms for local government for collaboration of local services and agencies, and data sharing.”

Related article:

Labour wants to create ‘new digital machinery of government’


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