News Analysis: Regions lobby for civil service jobs

Provincial councils and other urban authorities across the UK are launching charm offensives to encourage government departments to relocate. Sarah Robertson analyses how PR and lobbying are driving the battle. Since Sir Michael Lyons published his Government-commissioned report on the workings of the civil service in March, community leaders across the country have scrambled to secure a piece of the civil service pie.

The Lyons Review called for the relocation of 20,000 civil-service jobs from London and the South-East to the regions by 2010 to cut costs and improve efficiency, as well as to help alleviate the South-East's inflated house prices and traffic congestion.

The move is part of radical reforms in the civil service, with the Treasury controversially having pledged to axe 100,000 jobs as recommended by the Gershon Report.

Publisher GovNet has organised a conference on how to lobby Whitehall in the relocation battle at the end of the month (www.govnet.co.uk).

Meanwhile, regional bodies that have cranked up their lobbying efforts include Cumbria Investment Agency, which has drafted in Weber Shandwick GJW Public Affairs.

The National Office of Statistics has been the first to make its call, with up to 600 jobs moving to Newport in South Wales over the next two years.

Campaign launches

While some regional development agencies and local authorities began making their case for securing the jobs during the consultation period before the Lyons Report was published, others are just launching their campaigns as Whitehall departments prepare to make their decisions in the coming weeks and months.

But how exactly are the different regions marketing their appeal to the government departments?

The message about a better quality of life compared to the London and the South-East is a common thread. Many regions are trying to capitalise on lower house prices. For instance, Bradford Council has enlisted a presenter from Channel 4's Location, Location, Location to make a short film about property in Bradford, which it is distributing on DVD around Whitehall departments.

'You can buy double the house in Bradford that you can in London,' argues council regeneration manager Martin van Zeller.

The city's other messages are that it has a growing population and workforce, whereas other cities are either static or losing their population, says van Zeller. Bradford also offers a diverse ethnic population, he adds.

'The employee profile of government departments reflects a good balance of ethnic minorities. If you move north to Newcastle or York you get places with low levels of ethnic minorities, whereas Bradford reflects a diverse workforce,' he says.

York's promotional body york-england.com is lobbying the departments that already have a presence in the North Yorkshire region.

Chief executive Imelda Havers says: 'Defra and the MoD are the main departments we are targeting because we already have the biggest garrison in the country here and Defra's Central Science Laboratory, which has more than 700 scientists.'

Nottingham's unique selling point is its effective localism and its sustainable development policies, says city council executive assistant Stephan Barker. 'We are a modern authority and have completely changed our strategic management team and had a change of administration this year. We have a shopping centre used by the entire region and a good central focus in the city with the Market Square.' The local authority is using retained agency LLM Communications to push its case.

Manchester Investment and Development Agency Service (Midas) marketing manager Shaline Ranat says its campaign focuses on Greater Manchester's 360,000 students, who provide an army of casual and part-time labour and a constant stream of employees.

Its campaign also promotes the region's transport infrastructure, with 26 per cent of Manchester's workforce taking ten minutes or less to get to work, and a further 30 per cent taking between 11 and 20 minutes, according to Midas. A £500m shopping centre is currently being built in the city, the latest in a number of regeneration projects that Midas promotes, Salford Quays being completed just two years ago.

One general benefit of the civil-service relocation is that it gives the departments a chance to review how they operate, says van Zeller. But not everyone is convinced the move will be successful.

'Lyons wants to do an equation of where the most deprived areas are and send the top professional in the civil service there, but what he should be doing is an equation of where people want to live,' says Regeneration & Renewal deputy news editor Ben Walker.

'People do not want to live just anywhere; if you send them to more rural areas there will not be other jobs for them to go to if they want a change. You have to sell people an opportunity or they will leave the civil service,' he adds.

Financial Times regeneration correspondent Jim Pickard asks why the regions are being asked to lobby hard when the Government already knows what the various regions offer: 'I can't help thinking the Government should make its mind up.

'There are many people who think Government departments should move to the Thames Gateway development. It would make a lot of sense to move the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) there because its remit is to regenerate the area,' he adds.

But while the Government dangles the prospect of boosting local economies, it is understandable why regional development agencies and councils are plotting how to beat their neighbours to the punch. Whichever regions benefit from the relocation bounty, Britain's civil servants will sport a more diverse array of accents and backgrounds.

As John Bennett, national comms manager at The National Secretariat, responsible for co-ordinating the policy of the UK's nine regional development agencies, says: 'There are cultural implications because there will be a move away from a Whitehall-centric attitude, which has to be a good thing.'

THE NUMBER OF JOBS TO BE RELOCATED

- Chancellor's departments 3,100

- Department for Work and Pensions 4,200

- Ministry of Defence 3,900

- Home Office 2,300

- Department for Constitutional Affairs 1,600

- Department of Health 1,100

- Department for Education and Skills 800

- Other departments 2,700

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