UK property strategy aims to radically shrink office estate

By on 23/07/2018
John Manzoni, the UK Cabinet Office permanent secretary, launched the new property strategy (Image courtesy: UK Civil Service).

The UK government has unveiled a new property strategy that aims to save the government £3.6bn over 20 years and boost the property profession – or ‘function’ – within government.

The Cabinet Office’s Government Estate Strategy updates the original version, published in 2014, which introduced the concept of government ‘hubs’: large, flexible offices mixing staff from various departments.

The latest document covers the period up to the end of the current Parliament in 2022 and restates the existing aim of reducing the number of buildings in which government operates nationally from 800 to 200.

It also outlines the continued shrinking of government’s London estate – with 1,000 civil servants set to move out of the capital during the period. This would be another step towards the government’s existing long-term strategy to move thousands more jobs and a range of organisations out of the capital.

John Manzoni, permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, said: “One of the ways we are learning to match supply and demand better is to share space between a wide variety of organisations; single occupancy is fast becoming a thing of the past.”

Flexibility key

Although civil service numbers have fallen recently, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will mean civil servants relocating from Brussels, he explained.

“Over the next five years, the key element of estate planning will be flexibility,” said Manzoni. By 2022, the government wants to establish a total of around 20 hubs, supported by a network of smaller “mini hubs”.

The central government Whitehall estate will shrink to no more than 20 offices which, the strategy says, will operate “as a single entity with flexible space, shared services, and – where the work is not security-sensitive – integrated security systems, including a common access pass”.

However, the expected date to achieve this aim has been extended to 2030. In 2016, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Lord Bridges of Headley told Parliament that his department was targeting 2025 to complete the “Whitehall Campus” project.

Commercial approach sought

Whitehall has long been the heart of the UK civil service – but many officials are to move out (Image courtesy: SouthEastern Star).

The government’s property plans will be delivered through the Government Property Agency (GPA), formally launched in April with the intention of bringing a more commercial approach to the government’s management of its property.

The GPA is expected to deliver £3.6bn of savings over 20 years, with £2.5bn expected to be delivered by the hubs programme, according to the strategy.
Upon launch, the government estimated benefits resulting from the formation of the GPA at between £1.4bn and £2.4bn over the next 10 years.
The “distinctive nature” of some property portfolios, including those occupied by the Ministry of Defence, Department for Education and overseas assets will require tailored strategies, the document said.

Separately, the new strategy also aims to increase funding for the government’s One Public Estate programme, which brings central and local government frontline services together in single offices. New targets of 200 co-locations under this programme by the year 2020, and 250 by 2022, were announced.

Government departments have now been tasked with publishing Strategic Asset Management Plans, setting out how they will deliver the estate strategy and “giving the public a better understanding of how the government is managing its estate,” the strategy says.

Property expertise boosted

Meanwhile, a new cadre of 250 property apprenticeships and 100 property ‘Fast Stream’ graduate management trainee roles will be created to boost the profession within government. And the government will create a dedicated property resource hub and a pool of private sector property experts, providing additional capacity across government at times of peak demand.

A new Digital National Asset Register will bring together information about local and national public property, which will be combined with socio-economic data “so that the future civil service and the public services we deliver are provided where they are most needed”, the strategy says.

Commenting on the strategy, Steve Gell, associate partner at property consultancy Carter Jonas, said: “Achieving success for large-scale estate rationalisation is incredibly complex, but there are already examples outside of London where this has worked well.”

These case studies, he added, “have delivered modern and more efficient property for public services, and more respectable working conditions for civil servants, whilst at the same time releasing land and buildings for new residential and mixed-use schemes and generating employment opportunities.”

He added that achieving the strategy’s goals will require more effective working between public and private sectors.

About Colin Marrs

Colin Marrs is a journalist specialising in local and national government, as well as architecture and the built environment. Colin previously worked as digital content editor at Campaign, the advertising industry "bible".

2 Comments

  1. Eric Aston

    24/07/2018 at

    Are we to assume they will be ditching the white elephant they call the Palace of Westminster and moving Parliament outside of central London, somehow I do not think so. The government goes on about cost cutting for civil servants but that policy stops when it arrive ouside the House of Commons!! Total hypocrisy.

  2. Charlie Welch

    24/07/2018 at

    No problems about working flexibly (ie from home) if it is easier to take this into account in my tax bill, and I have a proper assessment of my working environment including appropriate adjustments.

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