The Independent View: Can a more balanced regional investment in the Civil Service improve democracy?

With the UK’s most senior civil servant stepping down and a radical shake up of the Civil Service planned by the government, I would like to take a look at what more could be done to enhance democracy across every region of the UK.

Civil servants are located around the country, but as expected, the civil service is London-centric. 20% of the civil service workforce is based in London (the most of any region), with 67% of the most senior positions in the country located in the capital. However, other regions in the UK could benefit from a more even spread of government departmental investment to help rebalance the economy and for a greater democratic engagement in those areas.

It is clear that some areas of the country have felt left behind by political elites. There is often talk of ‘levelling-up’ the economy. In other words investing in regions other than London and the South East to see a more diverse mix of jobs, wealth and vibrancy.

So could the government look at departments of state as an option to level up? Could moving/investing in buildings, infrastructure and job creation – or indeed moving some away from London – benefit the country?

This action would boost local economies. But from a political point of view could it empower people in other regions by having a direct stake in governmental and democratic affairs? For example, if more people in a particular town were employed in the civil service then this in turn would provide that community with a direct interest in the mechanisms of state. Such an investment might see more participation with the democratic process and therefore more empowerment for individuals.

Looking at the statistics, the Institute for FIscal Studies state that the East Midlands, East of England, West Midlands, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber have the fewest number of civil servants employed in their regions. Compare this with voter turnouts at the most recent general election and those regions feature prominently in the lowest turnout constituencies.

Perhaps this is a crude science, but it raises an interesting point; in levelling up the UK’s economy by investing in every region, not being dominated by London and the South East, there is an opportunity to consider where Civil Service jobs could feasibly be created and how this can benefit forgotten communities.

London is the financial and political epicentre of the UK and it reaps the rewards of that – in turn the rest of the country benefits from London’s global success. However, with recent rumours of temporarily moving the House of Lords due to Parliament’s required refurbishment, perhaps it is time to look at how to spread the focus away from the capital so that other regions in the UK may experience a significant and unique investment – with all of the advantages that come with it.

* David Lydiat is the founder of UK Reformists

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2 Comments

  • Peter Hirst 1st Jul '20 - 1:02pm

    What is the relationship between these civil servants and local government? If they met regularly and there was interchange it would help both local and central government understand each other better. There is little point in having civil servants in the regions if they have no contact with the infrastructure there.

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Jul '20 - 2:01pm

    I’m glad UKReformists are looking at improving democratic involvement across the country but I’m not sure how much this idea would help on its own. If it were connected to proposals for regional government it might make sense to have a one stop shop for government services in each region, much as we have supported happening in local government.
    I’m very keen that we should adopt some of the measures for community involvement in local government when thinking of reforming national government. It should be much more accessible and there should never again be a hostile environment operated by government departments. The present petition system is a joke which doesn’t seem to impinge on the attitudes of the government of the day and citizens’ assemblies would be a good idea when determining policies.

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