Ministry may move offices to Ipswich

HUNDREDS of civil servants responsible for rural regeneration could be moved from their Whitehall offices to Ipswich under plans to decentralise Government ministries.

By Graham Dines

HUNDREDS of civil servants responsible for rural regeneration could be moved from their Whitehall offices to Ipswich under plans to decentralise Government ministries.

Although details will not be published until next month, the policy making function of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is in line to be relocated to the provinces, with Ipswich one of those in the frame.

Twenty towns and cities have been short-listed by Sir Michael Lyons, the former chief executive of Birmingham City Council who was tasked by Chancellor Gordon Brown to report on the implications.

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Ipswich already houses major Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and Environment Agency centres and moving 500 of Defra's policy staff from Smith Square near the House of Commons would be a major book for Suffolk's county town.

More than 100 towns and cities across the UK were chosen for assessment, focussing on those with a population in excess of 100,000 but excluding the South East and the overheated parts of the East of England, notably Cambridge. Suitability of locations has been based on a relocation of 500 civil servants.

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Following an assessment by consultants King Sturge, based on a report by Experian, 20 UK centres have been short-listed.

Six functions of Government departments are in line to be re-located to the provinces including policy functions, information support contact centres, interactive contact centres, back office processes, and science functions.

Ipswich has been short-listed as a town which could accommodate the policy functions of a Government ministry, because of the high number, given its ease of access to London and the number of people in the immediate area who have degree level qualifications.

It is understood that most Government ministries could face some form of decentralisation, along the lines of the benefits section of the then Department of Health and Social Security which was relocated to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

In its report to Sir Michael Lyons, Experian says: "Previous experience suggests that staff retention rates are better outside London but senior staff may be reluctant to relocate. The clustering of public sector functions in a limited number of areas will help to provide a broader range of career opportunities and thus reassure senior staff of the benefits of relocation.

Jim Hehir, Ipswich borough council's chief executive said: "This is excellent news for Ipswich and confirms that we are a leading player in the East of England. While we are pleased to see confirmation of the impact of IP-City we feel we have more work to do because we need to stress the projected future growth of the town and its growing stature as a regional capital."

"The recognition of Ipswich as a highly suitable location for public sector policy and science jobs is clear evidence of the value of the IP-City initiative."

Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, said the Lyons review recognised that Government departments should lead by example in the drive to move companies and jobs from London.

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