Friday, February 26, 2016

News: Still no details on closure of BIS office

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The Government has still not revealed how much it stands to save by closing a Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) office in Sheffield despite repeated calls to do so at a Parliamentary debate secured by Rother Valley MP, Sir Kevin Barron.

Plans were announced last month to close the office in the prime St Paul's Place location by 2018 as the department creates a combined central HQ and policy centre in London. The closure could result in job losses among the 247 staff in the office.

Members from across the Sheffield city region attended the debate and pressed Minister for Universities and Science, Joseph Johnson, on exact reasons why the decision to close the Sheffield office was made and described how it was at odds with the Northern Powerhouse idea of rebalancing the economy.

Kevin Barron said in the debate: "BIS sites such as the Sheffield site ought to be in the vanguard of helping the Government to rebalance the economy and supporting such rebalancing in the sectors that are most prevalent in their respective regions. It seems particularly strange that BIS, with its supposed ambition to create more geographically balanced growth, should take this decision, when other Departments, such as the Department for Education, plan to remain in Sheffield.

"This move is all about, I believe, accommodating large reductions in headcount and nothing to do with the Department's core function of boosting business."

The MP also discussed previous plans to move vast numbers of civil servants out of Whitehall and London and the shelved plans for a government office campus at Waverley in Rotherham.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion added: "We have 247 staff now facing redundancy, having been informed that their jobs would be moving to London. The Government have described this as a transfer, yet they offer no guarantee that those affected will be allowed to transfer if they so wish, only that they "may be able to." For those facing such uncertain futures, that is small comfort.

"Moving the office responsible for the so called Northern Powerhouse down to London is bad enough; but giving dedicated civil servants false hope is something else entirely.

"This decision shows a complete lack of common-sense, along with everything else. The Government have still not released a detailed study. Indeed, as the permanent secretary suggested under questioning from Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, such a report may not even exist."

A report which influenced the decision called "BIS2020" set out the vision for the department responsible for economic growth. Kevin Barron asked for the report to be made public, saying: "That report was created by public money and we have the right to see the business case for the change. And I will tell you who has the right to see it more than anyone else: the 247 people who have this cloud hanging over them. I urge the Government to publish the facts, so that we can properly review the decision."

When asked how much money is saved specifically by moving 247 policy jobs from Sheffield to London, the Government has so far said that "it is difficult to disaggregate a specific item in an overall programme change."

Joseph Johnson explained that: "The overall BIS 2020 programme is a holistic system change of working for the Department that will deliver savings of 30% to 40%, worth £350m, overall. It involves bringing down the number of locations from which we operate from about 80 to approximately seven centres of excellence, supported by a regional footprint for work at a local level."

As part of the initiative, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) office in Manvers, Rotherham is under threat as Whitehall departments will be withdrawing their funding for the commission during the 2016-17 financial year.

Images: GVA

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