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Local government needs ‘at least 100 more’ co-location plans by 2020

Local government needs to try to engage in at least another 100 co-location schemes with other public sector bodies by 2020 given their simplicity and cost-saving potential, PSE has been told.

Speaking to us shortly before the launch of the sixth phase of the One Public Estate (OPE) programme, the scheme’s director at the LGA, Brian Reynolds, listed the 2015 co-location of DWP and council offices in Nottingham as one of his favourite examples of estate reform – a simple idea that has saved around £500,000 in running costs.

As part of the OPE, the DWP moved out of its city centre building in exchange for a capital receipt, and instead moved into Nottingham City Council’s building opposite the main train station. While both bodies aren’t yet engaged in joint working – despite having many of the same clients – staff have been working in a “much-improved environment, in a much better location, and it saved the public sector a substantial amount of money”.

“One of our objectives [as part of the OPE] will be to do a lot more of those co-locations with the DWP,” he told us. “DWP has done 48 co-locations with local government, and my view is we probably need to do another 100 more, at least, by 2020.”

In January this year, the DWP announced plans to become smaller and more efficiently run in order to cut around £180m in costs over the next decade. This ambition is also a result of its 20-year estate ownership and management contract with Telereal Trillium, known as PRIME, nearing its end in 2018 – meaning the department has been seeking ways to improve service delivery.

While it will retain the majority of its offices, the DWP will be divesting some outdated and surplus locations, merging smaller sites with larger ones, and co-locating around 50 Jobcentre Plus offices with councils or other community services.

Other forms of co-location will also be key to consolidating the vast local government estate, especially as part of the country’s push towards integrated working that will inevitably blur boundary lines.

“If you also want to try and achieve more integrated services, then I think co-location has to be the way forward,” explained Reynolds. “I like the Leeds health integration [scheme] because I think they took a very pragmatic view on this.

“Councils up and down the country have been working at health and social care integration for a number of years, but it often starts off top-down with a big policy thing, and then two years later there’s loads of paper and not much has happened. Leeds realised that was what could be the outcome, so they started bottom-up and took the view that they would co-locate all of the local authority staff and NHS staff in 11 hubs around [the city] – and force them to work together. As a result, they’ve had success when others have struggled to get there.”

Asked how the OPE programme, whose sixth phase was planned to kick off at Easter but was pushed back when Theresa May called the general election, will fit with devolution aims, the LGA estate boss said they are more than happy to accept applications from city regions and devolved authorities.

“In some cases, it makes sense,” he noted. “One of our objectives is to get better integrated services, particularly in health and social care for obvious reasons, because that’s a big crossover between central and local government. That really only works if you do it across wider borders than individual local authorities.

“And from our point of view, that’s the kind of thing that does work and makes a lot more sense than individual authority applications – although we do support individual applications if we think they’re sufficiently ambitious.”

When the next phase of the OPE is announced, Reynolds and his team hope that coverage will extend to around 90% of English councils, up from the current 70%. While that’s not quite as high as the 95% sought by central government, it will include the majority of local government’s top 100 landowners – which are arguably more relevant to the scheme’s overall success than smaller authorities who own very small plots of land, or none at all.

Last year, we also interviewed Bruce Mann, executive director of the Government Property Unit, about the secret to the success of the OPE just before phase four was launched.


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