Government breaks ground on Manchester hub to boost plans for north-west ‘cyber corridor’

Hundreds of anti-fraud officials have been moved to Manchester as government talks up technological potential of region

An image of the Manchester skyline   Credit: Reece Fletcher/Pixabay

The Cabinet Office has said the government’s Places for Growth programme to relocate 22,000 civil service roles away from the capital by the end of the decade has now passed the half-way stage.

In an update coinciding with Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin’s visit to the site in Manchester where the Government Property Agency’s new First Street hub will be built, the department said the relocation drive had now racked up 11,168 job moves.

The central department said the north-west had seen the most roles created, with around 2,100 government jobs previously based in London now operating from Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Sefton.

Alongside the Home Office, the Cabinet Office itself has been among the biggest sources of new jobs in the region, with both departments having moved 450 posts to Greater Manchester.

This includes Cabinet Office-based civil servants involved in cross-government counter-fraud operations. These officials will soon be joined in the north-west by the new National Cyber Force – a joint venture of the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ that will lead the UK’s “offensive cyber operations”.

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The plan to create the force – which will be based in the Lancashire village of Samlesbury – was first announced in 2020. 

The roles created at the unit’s HQ and the relocation of thousands of other civil-service positions is intended to support a wider government plan “to establish the North West as a ‘cyber corridor’”. This will be further enabled by the new Manchester hub on which construction has now begun.

“Once complete, the site will be one of the largest for cross-government collaboration and operation outside London, providing office accommodation and different types of areas for people to work and collaborate, as well as enabling efficiencies through digitally enabled office space,” the government said.

Outside of the north-west, the Yorkshire and Humber region has also benefited significantly from the jobs boost, with around 1,800 more civil servant roles now based in Leeds and Sheffield, the figures indicated.

The Cabinet Office said that “around eight out of 10” roles relocated as part of Places for Growth had been “filled by local people”, suggesting that new departmental hires in the regions and devolved nations were the backbone of the programme rather than existing staff moving.

Last month the Cabinet Office said that 8,300 roles had been relocated to date, and indicated that some of those jobs were from outside the civil service.

PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World asked the Cabinet Office for a departmental breakdown of its latest Places for Growth numbers and for confirmation of whether the 11,168 roles related exclusively to civil servants.

It was unable to provide a detailed breakdown of the latest figures. However it said roles in the new total were “mostly” civil servants, but included “a small number of public servants, from departments and arm’s-length bodies”.

‘Local voices at the heart of policymaking’
At the ground-breaking ceremony for the First Street hub, Quin said that around 700 of the 2,500 staff who would be based at the building would be undertaking roles relocated from the capital.

“The programme to move government roles out of London is a key part of the plan to deliver on the prime minister’s top priorities, particularly when it comes to growing the economy across the whole UK,” he said. “By putting local voices at the heart of policymaking, we’re also moving power out of Westminster and into the hands of communities.”

Quin added that the new hub would “bring millions of pounds to the local economy” in Manchester.

The Cabinet Office said recent relocation studies indicated that every 1,000 roles relocated created a local economic benefit of £30m, suggesting that planned moves of government jobs to Greater Manchester could generate “more than £60m in economic benefits”. It did not provide a timeframe for the realisation of those benefits or state who produced the research.

Earlier this week, civil service unions told MPs that last year’s shock announcement that the government would look to reduce the size of the civil service by 20% – equivalent to cutting 91,000 jobs – had a major impact on the Places for Growth programme.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee evidence session heard that heightened fears about job-security and last summer’s political turmoil had caused Places for Growth to stall.

Jim Dunton

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