Public Sector Property

03.02.16

UK government to reduce offices by 75% before 2023

The UK government aims to reduce its offices by 75% and is introducing new measures requiring local authorities to publish information on surplus assets.

Speaking today at the Government Property 2016 Conference, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock MP launched the State of the Estate in 2014-15 report, which reveals that the government has already reduced its estate by 2.4 million square metres since 2010 – the equivalent of 336 football pitches, or more than the whole of Monaco. Assets sold off include the Old War Office building in Whitehall and an old bakery and lighthouse.

 In total, the government aims to save over £2bn over the next 10 years by rationalising its office estate, including a reduction in the total number of offices from 800 to 200 by 2023. In London alone the number of government offices has fallen from 181 in 2010 to 54 today, with an ultimate target of 20 by 2025.

The Housing and Planning Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Lords, will encourage local authorities to make similar reductions by encouraging them to report on how they are rationalising their estates, including publishing information on surplus assets that they have retained for longer than two years (or six months for housing) and their reasons for doing so.

Hancock said: “We have a laser focus on cutting the deficit, supporting growth and providing more houses. To that end, we’re determined to release property the government no longer needs and get out of expensive rentals that aren’t offering value for money.

“Today’s report shows the progress we’ve made in creating a more modern and efficient estate, with £1.8bn already saved for taxpayers. But there is still a lot more we can do. That’s why I’m calling on people across the country to get involved by challenging us through the Right to Contest scheme to release properties we’re not using efficiently enough.”

The Right to Contest is a scheme which allows businesses, local authorities and members of the public to challenge a central government department about land they own which is potentially surplus or redundant or could be put to better economic use. They can only challenge local authorities if they own land which is empty or under-used with no plans to bring it back into use.

More than 100 councils have already joined together to use their assets more efficiently as part of the One Public Estate programme.

The report shows that the size of the government estate fell by 300,000 square metres in the past year, saving £279m, a decrease from 500,000 square metres and £240m in 2013.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "The fact is these aren't grey civil service offices from another era, they are jobcentres, tax offices, courts, sites providing vital local services that people will find it harder to access, particularly the more vulnerable.

"Closure plans on this scale expose the lie at the heart of Tory policies for our regional economies, whether the so-called northern powerhouse, the midlands or elsewhere."

On Friday Martin Donnelly, the permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, announced that the department would close its Sheffield office with a loss of 247 jobs.

HM Revenue and Customs plans to close 137 local offices and replace them with 13 regional centres by 2027.

The State of the Estate report also reveals that each government employee now works in an average space of 10.4 square metres, a reduction of 20% since 2010.

 As part of the rationalisation of assets it was also confirmed today that Blythe House, a listed building used as a store and archive by the Victoria and Albert, Science and British Museums and as the MI6 HQ in the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, will be sold.

The government also saved £842mfrom 2014 to 2015 by selling empty buildings and exiting rentals, and has reduced the cost of running the estate by 28% since 2010.

Government departments have also cut greenhouse gas emissions by 22% since 2010, along with an 11% drop in water consumption and a 38% reduction in paper use.

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