Whitehall Estate

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John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What plans his Department has to reduce the Whitehall estate as a result of further UK devolution. [R] [901702]

The Minister without Portfolio (Robert Halfon): The Government have reduced the size of our central London estate quite radically from 185 holdings in 2010 to just 63 this year. The Government estate strategy, published in 2014, sets out a plan to continue this rationalisation further. Any reductions of staff numbers in London as a result of further UK devolution will help us deliver this change.

John Pugh: Radical devolution requires radical rationalisation. Does the Minister have a percentage target and does it include the highly desirable MI6 building?

Robert Halfon: The hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of devolution and of the northern powerhouse. This Government are more Chairman Mao than Joseph Stalin and we believe in letting a hundred flowers bloom when it comes to devolution. [Interruption.] We do not have a uniform approach and what works best for local communities will decide devolution powers. He will know that 22% of civil servants in the north-west are based in Liverpool and her Majesty’s Passport Office has a huge office in Liverpool with 650 staff—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Minister’s words should be heard, as these are important matters.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): Carlisle has reasonably priced housing, relatively low commercial rents and spare capacity in both. Will the Minister consider relocating part of central Government to my constituency?

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend makes an important point and he will be pleased to know that the Government have a target of moving 50% of Government buildings in London to outside London. As I said in answer to the previous question, a lot of progress has been made and the Government have saved £750 million cumulatively by moving out of 2,000 buildings, as well as raising £1.8 billion for the taxpayer.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): With this talk of moving MI5, does that not give a great opportunity to reduce the Whitehall estate by bringing those jobs to Scotland? After all, it is a well-known MI5 fact that it would rather be located in Scotland.

Robert Halfon: I would love to be of more help to the hon. Gentleman, but I think he knows that no Government would ever comment on intelligence matters.

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