Sheffield MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has claimed the closure of a Government office in Sheffield is a political move by Business Secretary Sajid Javid to boost himself to the ‘top of the class’.
The ex-Liberal Democrat leader said Mr Javid is making unnecessary cuts to his department in a bid to gain favour with Chancellor George Osborne.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) last month announced plans to close its largest office outside of London by 2018 - putting 250 jobs at risk in the St Pauls Place offices in Sheffield city centre.
Mr Clegg said: “This was a political choice by the secretary of state of the BIS department, who is so keen to be the top of the class in George Osborne’s fan club in Whitehall to deliver the biggest and in my view excessive number of savings to the Treasury at the earliest point.”
In a debate over the closure at Westminster Hall, he said the department has now made the second largest savings compared to others.
“That’s why I would say to the minister, would he confirm to me that the genesis of all of this was a political decision by secretary of state, not by him, to more than do his duty to the Chancellor to deliver such big cuts to the BIS department that the BIS department shot up from mid-table to second of all departments in Whitehall?
“That was an unnecessary decision. It has done great damage to a number of other important BIS programmes and it’s now doing a considerable amount of damage to the livelihoods and families and fortunes of hundreds of people in Sheffield and South Yorkshire.”
Labour and SNP MPs, who urged the department to reconsider the closure and loss of skilled staff, said it made a mockery of the Government’s so-called Northern Powerhouse commitment.
Shadow Home Office minister and Rotherham MP, Sarah Champion, said: “The irony that the department responsible for the Northern Powerhouse should choose to divert jobs from one of the northern cities to London is inescapable and sends entirely the wrong message.”
Business minister Jo Johnson said the move was part of a savings programme, but he could not say how much would be saved by the closure of the Sheffield office alone.
“The department needed to be restructured in line with the needs of the new business model for the department which is being put in place under the BIS 2020 framework,” he said.
“This new business model will deliver savings of £350 million by 2020, of which £100 million will fall in administration budgets.”
He insisted the department would not become ‘London-centric’, and that the majority of staff would continue to be based outside of the capital.
“We’re certain that this footprint and our BIS local capability in particular will ensure that BIS will maintain a nationwide perspective on policy issues,” he said.
“This Government is completely committed to Sheffield and the surrounding area as part of the Northern Powerhouse.”