Sir Humphrey headache solved? Civil servants could be booted out of capital

By Jo-Anna K. Burnett

Cost-cutting efforts may force more civil servants' jobs outside central London, a minster has warned.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith suggested an exodus of civil servants away from Whitehall could be necessary as the coalition presses on with its deficit reduction agenda.

In an attempt to reduce costs, the Cabinet Office is entrusting its Government Property Unit to manage an estate rationalisation programme for central London.

"Relocation of staff out of expensive London offices to other regions continues to be high on the agenda as an option to deliver the savings needed," Smith said in response to a written parliamentary question by Labour MP Diana Johnson.

Cutting offices and operation costs should "make savings for the UK taxpayer", Smith noted.

The government will focus on obtaining practical freeholds, permanent structures and property and public-private partnerships through the private finance initiative (PFI).

Government property has already cut by 20%, more than 432,900 square metres, between May 2010 and March 2013. Other strategies, like exiting leases, negotiating out of contracts and selling properties and land in Central London has saved £1 billion since the 2010 general election, according to the minister.

"This government does not believe that taxpayers should foot the bill for unnecessary properties," Smith added.

In February, the Department for International Development exited an "undeniably impressive" building at 1 Palace Street, saving taxpayers £62.5 million.

"The lease was expensive and unnecessary given the under occupation of various properties in the area which the government owns outright, " Smith said.