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Analysis paper

Lessons from the Darlington Economic Campus for civil service relocation

Ministers shouldn’t see civil service relocation as a primary tool for reducing regional economic inequality.

The Darlington Economic Campus in Darlington, England.
The Darlington Economic Campus has rapidly become the flagship site for civil service relocation.

The relocation of parts of the civil service to Darlington is proving beneficial for government – but ministers shouldn’t see civil service relocation as a primary tool for reducing regional economic inequality.

This paper draws on interviews with local politicians, local businesses and civil servants based in both Darlington and London – with the Darlington Economic Campus (DEC), announced in the March 2021 budget, currently housing around 600 staff from multiple departments on top of 700 from the Department for Education. 

It says the Darlington relocation has allowed talented people who cannot or do not want to live or work in London to contribute more effectively to the civil service and diversify its thinking and helped to change the way policy is made by exposing policy makers to different realities across the country and breaking down Whitehall siloes. Around 80% of the staff at the Darlington Economic Campus are recruited from the north of England and the remaining 20% have relocated from London.

Watch Jordan Urban discuss the key findings

The paper also finds that the campus has increased local pride in the area and provided a modest economic boost. But the number of relocated roles is not substantial enough to meaningfully reduce regional inequality and with almost 80% of the civil service already based outside London, civil service relocation cannot be a primary tool of ‘levelling up’. 

To ensure that the DEC succeeds on its own terms and benefits the civil service more than previous relocations, the paper sets out a series of recommendations for government, including:

  • ministers giving positive permission for staff at the campus to practise hybrid ways of working
  • ministers committing to regularly visit and work at the DEC
  • ensuring jobs in the civil service are more accessible to external recruits and career paths adapted to suit the local workforce
  • the rest of the civil service adapting to get the best out of the DEC, including by becoming more open to new ideas and perspectives.

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