IAIN WRIGHT: North-South economic divide needs to change

Iain Wright wants to move Government departments away from Westminster.
Iain Wright wants to move Government departments away from Westminster.

I spend half of my week in London, working from Westminster, and half back home in Hartlepool, working on constituency matters.

It is clear that there is a massive North-South divide, which seems to be getting worse.

London is powering ahead, with new jobs and new businesses.

The North is struggling, with redundancies and closures at SSI and Caparo in the local steel industry, as well as job losses in Air Products and Boulby mine showing how precarious the current situation is for local jobs and industry.

We need to see a real rebalancing of the economy so that growth and job opportunities are enjoyed across the country, rather than just in London and the South East.

That is why I have sponsored a Parliamentary Bill aimed to try to see government work and civil servants move out of London and into the regions.

This has been done by successive governments for many, many years – in Durham, for the Passports Service, or Newcastle for the old Department for Health and Social Security, now administering some of the activities of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Further afield from us, in 1979 the newly-created Manpower Services Commission was located in Sheffield, and hundreds of civil servants relocated there from London to set up the new body, and attract further jobs from the local area.

A Bill to ensure civil servants could move out of London and provide more economic activity and therefore more jobs in our part of the world would also actually reduce pressure on the overheated economy of London and the South East.

The proposals in the Bill I’m sponsoring would move the vast majority of central government civil servants and staff from government quangos out of London.

This would transfer 100,000 government positions from the capital into the regions, including the North East.

It would not only help to rebalance government growth but would actually result in a saving to the taxpayer and assist the government in balancing the books.

It is estimated that the proposals would save £10 billion up front and then making annual savings of about three quarters of a billion pounds.

The cost of office rents in central London is huge: something like £867 per square metre.

Imagine the relocation of government activity to the offices on the Marina; not only would Hartlepool see a boost, but the savings of costs would be immense.
The Government often talks about cutting the public sector and slashing jobs.

In many ways that’s true – you only have to see the damage and pressure that is taking place in the NHS, education and local government.

Yet there are more civil servants in Whitehall now than there were in 2013: Ministers seem to be dragging more and more personnel to them, at the expense of front-line services.

One way to remedy that would be to relocate those additional civil servants to Hartlepool, the North East and elsewhere across the country.

I hope the Bill becomes law, although it will be opposed by the Government and that limits its chances.

I think it would be an excellent way of redistributing and rebalancing economic activity to the benefit of our town and others throughout England.