‘Levelling Up’ – Lessons from Government Offices for the Regions

by ukcivilservant

David Higham has published a very timely history and ‘lessons learned’ analysis of Government Offices for the Regions (b. 1994, d. 2011).

GOs were the most ambitious attempt by any post war government to tackle the centralised and departmentalised traditions of the civil service.  But they haven’t featured at all in the current debate levelling up debate.  This is a remarkable omission because GOs – like the current government’s plans for the Teesside economic campus etc. – were always about improving central government decision making, rather than devolving power to local areas.

GOs were formed initially from the regional offices of four big departments. Later, the post-1997 Labour Government tasked them with working alongside bodies such as Regional Development Agencies.  Later still, major cities such as Manchester increasingly urged a city-based rather than a regional approach.  Sounds familiar? 

GOs were finally abolished by the 2010- Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, supposedly because they were “no longer necessary … given the Government’s commitment to genuine decentralisation and devolution of power”.

David’s paper is a great read with the added benefit that he draws attention to several important learning points, and key lessons for the current government.  You can find it here.

Martin Stanley

Editor – Understanding Government