UK government scraps pledge to move civil servants from London; Jakarta tells officials to work from home to cut air pollution: management & workforce news in brief

By on 24/08/2023 | Updated on 24/08/2023
Newcastle, England
Newcastle upon Tyne, the Millennium Bridge at dusk. Photo credit: barnyz

Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

UK government discards levelling up pledge to move civil servants from London

Plans to move UK civil servants from London to Birmingham and Newcastle have been scrapped, raising questions in Whitehall about the government’s commitment to its levelling up agenda.

Members of parliament (MPs) within the ruling Conservative Party urged ministers to provide justification for the move, which was outlined in the Government Property Agency (GPA)’s latest annual report.

The GPA, which is part of the Cabinet Office, said in the report that the decision was taken after “a review identified that [the planned relocations] no longer aligned with strategic requirements”.

The government has a longstanding commitment to move 22,000 civil service posts out of Whitehall by 2030. So far, it has moved several thousand officials to towns and cities including Glasgow, Darlington and Wolverhampton.

Civil servants have also been relocated to Birmingham and Newcastle, but the latest decision means no more are due to be transferred. Around £1m (US$1.2m) has so far been spent on moving officials to these locations.

John Stevenson, a Conservative MP and chair of the Northern Research Group, called the decision a “step backwards”.

“I expect a full explanation on parliament’s return and alternative policy initiatives to ensure that the movement of civil servants does proceed. I will also be asking the public administration and constitutional affairs committee to look at this issue,” he said.

In July, the UK’s cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee criticised the government’s management of its relocation plan, pointing to what it called “a lack of clear information…by the Cabinet Office [that] makes it difficult to judge how substantial its [levelling up] achievements are”.

It added that the government had taken a “boosterish approach” to recording its progress, leading to “an exaggerated picture of its achievements”.

The government’s levelling up agenda – first announced as part of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto – is a social and economic programme that aims to spread opportunity more equally across the UK, to areas outside London and the South East.

Register now: Public Service Data Live | Thursday 14 September 2023, Business Design Centre, London

Jakarta sends civil servants to work from home to reduce air pollution

Thousands of officials in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta have been told to work from home to help improve the city’s air quality.

Jakarta and surrounding cities comprise around 30 million people. The Indonesian government took action after a concentration of airborne PM 2.5 particles were shown to have surpassed that of many heavily polluted cities including Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar and Lahore in Pakistan.

Civil servants’ switch to remote working will last two months as part of a trial, according to a government notice. The notice added that the decision would reduce traffic congestion in the city in time for the ASEAN summit, which is due to be held there from 5-7 September. 

Half of the city’s 50,000 civil servants will initially be expected to work from home between 21 August and 21 October. During the summit, 75% of government officials will work from home.

Local environmental groups said the spike in urban pollution has been caused by factories and coal-fired power plants based near the capital. The government has dismissed these claims, insisting that the concentration of airborne particles are due to a combination of weather and traffic. 

The Jakarta government stressed that the plan to move officials to remote working could be ditched if deemed to be ineffective.

Read more: Citizens sue EU governments over failure to tackle climate change

Fukushima wastewater purge sparks backlash from China and South Korea

Japan began releasing wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean this month, triggering bans on Japanese seafood and protests in South Korea, and an uptick in hostile rhetoric from the Chinese state.

More than a million tonnes of wastewater are expected to be discharged from the plant over the next 30 years, clearing the site of the remains of a nuclear disaster that occurred in March 2011.

The United Nation’s atomic regulator said discharging the wastewater was safe and described the impact on the environment and human health as “negligible”. In the runup to the purge, Japan’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave assurances to neighbouring countries that the plan did not pose significant risks. The Japanese government also held press conferences and uploaded videos to YouTube explaining the plan’s procedures and safety measures.

However, the Chinese foreign ministry warned Japan not to “cause secondary harm to the local people and even the people of the world” and described the purge as based on “selfish interests” that would “[pass] an open wound onto the future generations of humanity”. The Chinese government vowed to increase its own monitoring of radiation levels in its waters. The Japanese government responded by calling China’s criticisms “scientifically unfounded”.

In Hong Kong and Macau – regions under Chinese rule – a ban on Japanese seafood from Tokyo and Fukushima came into effect on 24 August.

Han Duck-soo, prime minister of South Korea, said that a ban on Fukushima fisheries and food products would remain in place until the South Korean public were fully assured of the safety of these imports.

Read more: Japanese government uses AI to expose misinformation on Fukushima wastewater purge

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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