The Government has today confirmed almost the closure of the Sheffield BIS office, with staff told their roles will move south to London.
Staff at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) office in St Paul’s Place were given the news their office will close at 11am this morning (Thursday, May 26) - despite ministers being unable for weeks to come up with a business case for moving the department to the capital.
Many of the 247 staff affected have been on strike this week.
PCS union representative Marion Lloyd said the Government had ignored BIS office staff.
“The Government keep trying to persuade us they are listening and they are clearly not,” she said.
“There were more than 150 responses to the staff consultation and none of them were in support. I can’t think of one person who agrees with this decision.”
PCS members outside the BIS office unanimously agreed on further strike action shortly after the closure was confirmed.
“This is not the end of the fight and we will continue until we win,” said Ms Lloyd.
Confirming the decision, the BIS department’s permanent secretary Martin Donnelly said it had ‘not been made lightly’.
“It remains our top priority that staff are fully supported and briefed on what this means for them and their options.
“We have talked and listened to staff and unions. Making a decision which impacts on people’s lives and families is never easy. And we have decided that all staff will be able to stay in their current role and location until January 2018. After that, anyone who wants a role in London will be able to have one, with assistance towards the cost of travel for the first three years.
“Today’s announcement forms part of wider plans to modernise the way BIS works to become a smaller, more flexible Department that will deliver £350m in savings for the taxpayer by 2020.”
Earlier this week Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, refused to meet with the her despite ‘repeated requests’.
Today, Coun Dore said: “It is extremely disappointing, but probably not surprising that this Government have pressed ahead with moving 247 jobs from Sheffield to London. They have refused to listen to the case put forward by the staff affected, trade unions, councils across the city region, the Local Enterprise Partnership, wider business community and even MPs from all parties. The secretary of state wouldn’t even meet me to discuss this when he was in Sheffield last week despite requests dating back to January.
“This is a bad decision and the government have completely failed to explain the reasoning behind it. This isn’t about saving money, because moving the jobs to London costs more and flies in the face of the government’s Northern Powerhouse rhetoric when they are moving the department responsible for building the Northern Powerhouse from the north to London.
“We have made an overwhelming case to retain the jobs in Sheffield based on the fact it saves money for the government, is important for our local economy and helps to retain talent in Sheffield. The evidence is overwhelming but it seems like the government’s mind was made up from day one and they wouldn’t give anything else a hearing.”
“Our first thoughts must go to the people who are most affected by this, most will not be able to relocate to London, we will do everything we can locally to put in place support for local people to find new employment in the city as quickly as possible.”
Shortly after the decision was announced, the deputy leader of the House of Commons Dr Thérèse Coffey, responding to a question about job losses from Sheffield East MP Clive Betts, said the Government was ‘committed to Sheffield’.
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive director Richard Wright said: “The decision to close BIS in Sheffield seems to fly against all the rhetoric surrounding Northern Powerhouse, rebalancing the economy and moving a lot of government out of London.
“I absolutely understand the need to reduce the cost of government but I’m not sure this is even cheaper. Surely there is a case for taking bigger, but cheaper, premises in Sheffield and moving more people here.
“The chamber fully supports the work being done by our MPs and other stakeholders to get this decision reversed.”
Politicians from across the spectrum criticised the Government’s decision. Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: Relocating jobs from Sheffield to London is absolute madness. It’s terrible for those facing redundancy, terrible for Sheffield and terrible value for the UK taxpayer. These proposals were never on the cards during the coalition and should never have seen the light of day.”
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield added: “The decision announced today is disgraceful. It has been clear from the outset that centralising the department’s policy functions in the most expensive city in the country makes no financial sense. It also goes against the Government’s own aim of moving civil servants out of the capital.
“We won the argument with the backing of MPs from all parties and across the country, and the House of Commons called for an inquiry.
“We had hoped that the consultation on the January announcement would be genuine, but it’s clearly been phoney. Time and again, departmental bosses were unable to defend their decision, but they’re pressing ahead regardless.
“Serious alternatives were submitted to the consultation. But rather than innovate and come up with better ways of working, reducing costs and benefitting from the input of people who do not live and work in the capital, senior civil servants have chosen the lazy option.
“I am deeply disappointed that ministers have allowed themselves to be bounced into a decision that runs counter to Government policy and will cost the taxpayer. I am confident that when the National Audit Office publish their report into this there will be some red faces. This is a shocking indictment of the Government’s approach to running the country and another kick in the teeth for the so-called Northern Powerhouse.”
Sheffield Heeley MP said: “We have hauled ministers before the House of Commons time after time, stood on the picket line with employees and fought tooth and nail to keep jobs in Sheffield.
“The decision to move Sheffielders’ jobs to London is a desperate symbol of the Tories’ contempt for our city. They cannot be trusted to build a Northern Powerhouse and put our area on equal footing with the wealthy south-east after this despicable decision to lay off powerful Sheffield civil servants who could have been the eyes and ears of a Northern revival.
“The Tories’ promised to build a powerhouse but instead they are taking jobs out of our city and moving them to the very last place in need of these jobs - Westminster. The Tories’ have proven what we all know - the Northern Powerhouse will work in spite of the Tories not because of them and that you simply cannot truth them to.”
“We look forward to the judgement of the National Audit Office into this disgraceful decision.”
City councillor Shaffaq Mohammed said: “Sheffield is facing a very challenging time right now with job losses around the city. We’ve faced trying times in the past but Sheffielders are strong and we will bounce back, with new ideas and strong leadership.”