It seems that the Government have reached the conclusion that a review is needed to see what civil service and quango jobs could be moved out of London and the South East... again. There is, it is suggested, scope to move some of those 132,000 civil service and 90,000 "arms-length bodies" jobs and achieve not only savings but place civil servants in the heart of the communities they serve.
Well, yes and no. Firstly, there are those of us who are still struggling through the reorganisations wrought by the Lyons Review, published in 2004, which called for transfers of work out of London. As a result of that, corporation tax work for most of the City of Westminster (my old office) was transferred to Hull, and that for South West London was transferred to... Dundee. To go for another reorganisation so soon would certainly be challenging but, if that's what Government wants, that's what Government will get.
Indeed, Lyons wasn't the first transfer of work out of London. In 1991, the final tranche of PAYE work left London, in the case of my then office, Hendon, it went to Salford. I was moved to deal with wealthy self-employed individuals and those with significant investment income in Maida Vale, only for that work to be transferred to Leicester in 2001.
There is little of the local network left in London nowadays, with much of the work transferred to enormous sheds in Washington, Merthyr Tydfil and East Kilbride (to name but three). And yet the intention is that we should be closer to our communities? Does that mean that the work already transferred out of London will suddenly materialise back into the city? No, of course not, that would be consistent. In other words, the community only matters if it isn't in London and the South East, and the warm words are merely intended to provide cover for another transfer of jobs to Labour supporting areas in the North and the Celtic fringe.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to the transfer of work out of London. The arguments about the cost of accommodation, of London weighting and about retention and recruitment all hold some merit. However, if you believe that a national civil service is about providing a high quality of service everywhere, it means that you need to provide that service everywhere. Technology means that much of the work can be done remotely, especially where it involves processing of documents. However, you do need people to provide the face to face service, and there comes a point where you cut numbers beyond that required.
I am astonished that it took Liam Byrne seven months to come up with this proposal. Given that all he needed to do was pull the Lyons Review off of the shelf, get someone to update it a bit, and then act upon those recommendations that haven't yet been carried out, it shows that any sense of originality has been drained from an increasingly desperate Government.