The Business Department and its most senior civil servant Martin Donnelly are on the ropes following an appearance before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. At the Committee’s evidence session, Mr Donnelly admitted there was absolutely no costing done for the Department’s Sheffield Office closure plan.
Intense questioning from Parliament’s cross-party Public Accounts Committee again exposed the absence of a business case for the plan to close the Business Department’s Sheffield office at St Paul’s Place. Mr Donnelly, the Department’s Permanent Secretary, repeated his admission there was no cost benefit analysis done before the decision was taken. He initially admitted there was no business case under questioning from me at the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee last month.
Mr Donnelly couldn’t put a figure on the cost of any redundancy packages for Sheffield staff, the cost of any relocation packages, how much the additional London salary weightings and expensive London office costs will add up to nor how much it will cost to equip London staff with the huge expertise that would be lost by closing the Sheffield office. He even had to resort to saying it was only occasionally useful for policy staff to brief Ministers face-to-face.
Mr Donnelly’s performance was in stark contrast to his opposite number at the Department for Education, Chris Wormald, who before the same Committee was unequivocal when asked about the value of policy-making outside of London. His Department intends to expand its presence in Sheffield.
The BIS decision will cost the Government money, lose expertise, runs counter to Government policy ‘to move jobs outside of expensive Whitehall accommodation’ and drives a stake through the heart of the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Mr Donnelly and the Business Secretary should take a leaf out of the Chancellor’s book who this week dropped hugely controversial plans to cut disability benefits. The plan is falling apart and it needs to be scrapped. We will not let this issue rest.