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Modernising the Government Estate – a transformation strategy

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The Government Estate is made up of hundreds of thousands of assets, from railways, ports, prisons and power stations, to schools, hospitals and health surgeries, job centres, administrative offices, and many more, spread all the around the UK.

The 2018 Government Estate Strategy, published this July, will transform how we use these assets. It contains commitments that not only deliver value for money, but that consider property as a platform for the delivery of government’s wider objectives, including delivering the best possible public services, releasing surplus land for housing, reducing the state’s carbon footprint, and boosting growth across the UK.

Reducing costs

In the past, such strategies have concentrated on minimising the expense of running the estate, and been principally concerned with how to reduce costs, an approach that has brought great success.

Since 2014 we have reduced the Government Estate by over 1,000 properties, raising £2 billion in building sales and saving a further £300 million per annum in operating costs. Furthermore, vacant space has been reduced across the central Government Estate by 73%, and is now just a fifth of the average private sector vacancy rate, at 1.5% (private sector average: 7.5%). Additionally, our more modern, sustainable estate now supports the government’s wider environmental commitments, with carbon emissions reduced by 33% and paper consumption by 50%.

Focus on efficiency

The latest Government Estate Strategy continues to encourage a smarter, leaner, more fit-for-purpose estate, with a focus on efficiency. This includes introducing a new framework for assessing the whole-life cost of property – from planning and design, through to construction, operation and decommission – and embedding a new property model through the Government Property Agency (GPA).

Front cover of Government Estate Strategy

The GPA is a new executive agency of the Cabinet Office, set up to provide professional property asset management services across central government’s general purpose estate. It will make the administrative estate operate more effectively by replacing older, less efficient, buildings with purpose-built offices. This will reduce the number of office buildings in which central government operates from 800 to around 200, while enabling the Civil Service to work more effectively together, with Government Hubs housing a number of departments under one roof. This model is expected to deliver £3.6 billion of savings over 20 years, of which £2.5 billion is expected to be delivered by the Hubs programme.

Transforming how government works

However, the value of our estate lies in more than bricks and mortar, and plans for it aim to deliver more than simply greater efficiency. The strategy shows how the estate can be a powerful catalyst for transforming, for the better, the way that government works – both in how its services reach the public, and in how its own civil servants work. It also sets out how we can use the power of our estate to energise the housing market, create supportive infrastructure and release surplus land for house building.

The estate exists to support government activity – much of which involves public-facing services. The way in which we deliver these services is changing, thanks to new technology, changing lifestyles and the evolving needs of the population. Our estate itself needs to change to reflect this. For example, the NHS Five Year Forward View set out plans to ease pressure on A&E and acute hospital services by providing more services in the community. Changes to the NHS estate to house such services are fundamental to making that happen. Elsewhere, introducing technology and online services into our justice system means we will be less reliant on physical court buildings in the future. And the introduction of Universal Credit means Jobcentres are increasingly co-locating with councils to deliver a more integrated service for customers.

Boosting local growth

Map of the UK made up of circles representing different industries and sectorsDecisions on where to locate government land, buildings and civil servants, and the type of working environment we offer, also have the power to transform places and services, and boost local growth, creating great places to work and helping deliver a Brilliant Civil Service.

The Civil Service is too London-centric. We plan to tackle this through the Places for Growth Programme. The programme will work with departments and public bodies to relocate up to a thousand public sector posts out of London and South East England to all of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom by 2022. This will be followed by thousands more posts, including at senior grades, by 2030.

As outlined in the Industrial Strategy White Paper, we want jobs to go to cities that have the existing skills and capacity to enable both organisations and the destination locations to flourish and better connect the relevant parts of government with local economies. This will help boost local growth and use our estate as a driver to ensure that the Civil Service more closely reflects and connects with the people and communities it serves. We will support the development of at least three specialist clusters in cities across the UK by 2022.

Becoming less London-centric

In relocating roles across the whole of the UK, properly clustered around the required skills and similar roles, we will also help to ensure the creation of sustainable career paths for civil servants, and offer career progression into senior roles, without their having to be based in London.

By the end of this Parliament, under the Government Hubs scheme, the GPA will establish a network of around 20 multi-agency hubs across the UK. For example, New Waverley, in Edinburgh, will bring together around 2,900 UK Government civil servants who work in Scotland, consolidating the UK Government estate in modern office space with ministerial and press facilities. In Wales, Central Square, Cardiff, will accommodate over 4,000 public servants from several different UK Government departments. And in Northern Ireland, Erskine House, Belfast, will ensure that the UK Government remains one of the largest employers in the city.

Composite of four images of government buildingsin each country of the UK
Future locations of Government Hubs across the UK (Canary Wharf formally opened on 16 October 2018)

Smarter working – enabling people

The hubs will move thousands of civil servants into new, fit-or-purpose offices, helping us to both make the working experience of civil servants better and improve service delivery. The hubs will also take advantage of a profound shift in the way the Civil Service will work in the future, in environments that embrace smarter working practices and technology that equip and enable the person, rather than the office. This in turn will allow for greater diversity in our workforce and career paths – and a focus on cross-department collaboration in activities such as analysis, communications and business support.

These policies will also help deliver our longer-term ambition of a Whitehall Campus of no more than 20 efficient, fit-for purpose buildings (reduced from 65 now). We see this operating as a single entity, with flexible space, shared services and – where possible – integrated security systems, including a common access pass. We will also work with government partners to enhance the experience of the many thousands each year who visit and work in Whitehall, making it more welcoming, more secure and more accessible for all.

We are aware that the future is hard to predict. Overall Civil Service numbers, having fallen in recent years, have risen again as part of our preparations for exiting the European Union, which will also see us repatriating jobs from Brussels and creating new jobs in the UK. This is why it is critical that we continue to manage the overall asset portfolio efficiently and flexibly, so that we can contract or expand the supply of property as demand changes.

More joined-up services

And we’re not just focusing on the Government Estate. The public wants to see more joined-up public services. Through the One Public Estate programme we are supporting bodies across the public sector to collaborate on ambitious property-led schemes. This programme, delivered in partnership with the Local Government Association, supports government and local bodies to bring services together under one roof. This will drive better collaboration and support the delivery of £615 million in capital receipts, a target of £158 million in running-cost savings, land for 25,000 homes, and 44,000 jobs by 2020. This is both more cost-efficient and works to break down organisational barriers and provide a more integrated, accessible service to the public.

It has long been our ambition to create a ‘digital estate’ – a complete and secure public data record of our property assets that is open and transparent and can be used to promote more strategic decision-making. By the end of this Parliament, this will be made possible through the creation of a Digital National Asset Register. This will join up data from hundreds of entities under one geospatial umbrella, providing a strategic view of all public estate data, and helping to ensure that public services are provided where they are most needed.

We will also continue to drive efficiency by expanding reporting of key performance metrics in the annual State of The Estate Report. For the first time, this will include laboratories, job centres, courts and storage buildings.

We cannot fulfil our commitments without a highly motivated, skilled and diverse Government Property Profession (GPP). The 5,000 people working in government property play a major role in policies that impact on the delivery of government priorities. The strategy will ensure that the GPP gives them the support they need to flourish in their careers.

An estate that works for everyone

As custodians of the strategy, the OGP in the Cabinet Office will work with departments, their arms-length bodies and other cross-government functions, to ensure their plans dovetail with the strategy – enabling service delivery while still serving as a vehicle for change. This, alongside the work of the GPA, will allow a greater commercial focus and more consistent and professional management across the estate.

To deliver the best possible services we need an estate that is fit for purpose and built around the service need. The commitments in the Estate Strategy are designed to deliver a Government are designed to deliver a Government Estate that truly works for everyone – a Public Estate for Public Benefit.

MoJ National

Successive programmes run by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to maximise the efficiency of its estate have resulted in the disposal of over half of its office estate and a saving of around £50 million per annum in running costs and £100 million in capital receipts. In line with the Government Estate Strategy, the department has continued to transform not just its estate but the way it works. Under ‘MoJ National’ it has moved away from a single London HQ and adopted a four-headquarters model (102 Petty France, Canary Wharf, Croydon and Leeds) all operating a desk ratio of 6 desks to every 10 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees.

The goal of MoJ National is to become a de-centralised, yet connected, national organisation. This will be achieved by maximising the efficiency of the space it retains through modern workplace design and technology, and smarter working principles. It is also reducing the pressure on its workspaces, and creating an attractive offer for employees, by providing places to work closer to home through a commuter hubs programme.

In reducing its Petty France footprint, the MoJ has created a multi-tenant government hub, which already includes the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Charities Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service. This has helped to unlock a complex property chain and enable government to generate estimated annual savings of £65 million, through the release of seven central London properties.

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  1. Comment by D Donovan posted on

    How ‘green’ are these new hubs? In every sense. Are they powered by solar panels? Heated by ground source heat pumps? Surrounded by green spaces? With interior vegetated areas? With built in recycling capability? Looking forward to an increasing number of electric vehicles and thus charging points?

  2. Comment by David posted on

    I totally agree with reducing 'brick and mortar' costs as we should be much more cost-effective with the use of taxpayer money. However, reducing the HMRC estate to 13 regional centres (plus the few specialist/touchdown sites) is a leap too far. It's a bit laughable to talk about boosting local growth when you're moving thousands of jobs into cities that don't need more jobs, or the added congestion. Has forcing thousands of people to make longer journeys to work been accounted for in the carbon footprint impact? When it comes to technology, it's fine to have shinier kit and interior design but that doesn't really amount to much if the network and services still run slow and things like video-conferencing are so unreliable. There's also talk of OGD collaboration but we're not allowed to share information without it going through the appropriate exchange gateways.

  3. Comment by Paul New posted on

    Will the hubs also be usable by members of non-departmental public bodies, who have laptops for remote working?

  4. Comment by PAUL LUNT posted on

    Can someone tell me what are the proposed hubs for staff working in Walker House Liverpool?

  5. Comment by Sally posted on

    How ironic, having followed a link on Civil Service News - The opening of the new Government Hub at London's Canary Whaft housing 6000 CS......
    The 6th paragraph above headlines as 'Becoming less London-centric'. I say no more!

  6. Comment by Cheryl Bignell posted on

    What plans are there for the South West of the country?

    • Replies to Cheryl Bignell>

      Comment by Yvonne posted on

      I'd be really interested to see an answer to your question Cheryl. Every change over recent years has gradually eroded the opportunities available to Civil Servants living in the South West to the present near non-existent levels.

      When I initially saw the article I was quite excited to see that steps were being taken to become less London Centric and increase opportunities for a wider number of people. But like a lot of people who have commented here as I read on it became clear that my interpretation of less London Centric was vastly different and if I'd thought that anything was going to change for the South West or Midlands then I was very much mistaken.

      I'm really sad to see that yet again whole swathes of the country are being forgotten about yet we will have a hub for 6,000 CS in Canary Wharf.

  7. Comment by Les posted on

    Unfortuately "tradition" is gradually being eroded with the closure of the Custom Houses in London and Gravesend to name a few. These purpose built properties at their time of construction are part of our national heritage that we should be proud off. Thery are being sold off for re development with their grade 1 status in many cases. Instead of Government running these out of central budgets they were sold off to private management companies to rent back to us at astronomical rates. These companies often based offshore to avoid paying UK tax. One of the properties mentioned; with current rents being circa. £1.2 million. I feel most staff would have been happy to remain where they were instead of being moved to Canary wharf or other places that has probably cost even more than if we continued to own the Custom Houses. It has also cost more in staff well being and loss with the disruption caused. How in any way money is saved, I can not see the wood for the trees!

  8. Comment by Billie Savage posted on

    The government estate strategy is bold and is in line with its transformation of the civil service. My question is has any impact assessment been done on moving thousand of jobs out of London to the regions

  9. Comment by Michael Hall posted on

    I find the case study of MOJ National interesting. Two of the four sites are still central London, and the third is south London. This is hardly a nationwide spread and will still be regarded by most people as a London-centric model that does not illustrate what you are trying achieve.

  10. Comment by Sue Dossetter posted on

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. This sounds very similar to the Government Offices for the English Regions that dealt with the work of 13 Government Departments in 9 regional offices and very successfully too. The Treasury said that they were excellent value for money and yet Mr Pickles, in his wisdom (?) abolished them calling them 'quangos' in spite them being manned by civil servants. The Government lost money paying out for redundancies and hey presto - they're re-inventing the wheel at even more cost. Well done for re-inventing the wheel at the tax-payers expense.

    • Replies to Sue Dossetter>

      Comment by Dawn posted on

      Here, here. Many of us worked in very successful Government Offices that were then abolished by this Government to save money! Now spending more money to set them up again in all but name. Well done this Government - I will say no more as I might regret it if I voice my opinion on this any further............

  11. Comment by Nick posted on

    So recreating Government Offices as 'Hubs' then after closing the GOs down in 2011. Typical Civil Service - just goes round in circles.

  12. Comment by Sue posted on

    Yet again nothing provided for East Anglia but London gets a new building at Canary Wharf. When are the decision makers going to look at high unemployment areas and build a hub there? A lot cheaper than London.

  13. Comment by Ibrahim posted on

    History repeats itself.
    This is not a new idea, I remember visiting a site called Government Buildings in Oxford in the early 1980's that housed several Government departments. this was closed and the site sold to developers. I know there were others around the country too and as far as I am aware they all suffered the same fate. Still a good idea though.

  14. Comment by Alex Swanson posted on

    Some good progress made here. Really interested to hear how we're going to be moving SCS roles out of London. As someone who's worked for the Civil Service in both Birmingham and London I've seen how places like Birmingham can be effective centres of expertise for Civil Service programmes/organisations (regulation in Birmingham for example) alongside seeing the impact of rapid turnover of staff elsewhere, in part enabled by the concetration of offices in London. The Institute for Government has done research around this concentration at the link below; 67% of SCS roles are in London!

  15. Comment by Paul Aldred posted on

    This sounds Fantastic News, unless you live in one of the Transition Sites, it's great the way the Civil Service are providing this regeneration unless you live in Lowestoft. Is it too far and difficult for Senior Civil Servants to get to?. Must admit it's going to be a devastating blow to the Local Community when DWP move away from Lowestoft

  16. Comment by Yorkie posted on

    Becoming less London-centric is a worthy aim of a national Civil Service. Indeed I can recall deciding to move to York when my department (MAFF as it was then) started up this route. Sadly 20+ years later I still have to travel to London almost weekly and often for days at a time. We are told people need to be 'near' Ministers and senior officials. So much for an HQ. At least I now get some diversity in my travel as I often also go to Reading and Bristol.

    I shudder to think how my carbon footprint looks now compared to 10 years ago and this is a shared experience from conversations on trains and in offices and across many departments. If you want to put hubs around the country, do it properly: invest in the technology to allow us to contribute meaningfully from a distance; change the culture of those near the pointy end so that they accept that we are not all able to be in London on demand and please look at some way of encouraging career development within the hubs. I note that this last item is listed in the article. It will be interesting to see how this works this time around!

  17. Comment by Nick T posted on

    Marvellous rhetoric!!

  18. Comment by Simon Smith posted on

    I remain unsure whether this is a missed opportunity or just ruthless cost-cutting dressed up as something else.
    If the agenda is to connect our work and our people with local communities to spur local growth, a strategy based on consolidating local offices into regional hubs is obviously the wrong way to go.
    Likewise the level of stated ambition for decentralising jobs is pretty minimalist. ‘Up to’ a thousand public sector (not civil service, mind) posts with the promise of some more leaving London looks more like a fig leaf for cutting cost. The ambition will remain nugatory, if indeed it even happens, until HM Treasury moves out of 1HGR/GOGGS to a deprived area on the coast or north of Watford.

  19. Comment by Chris posted on

    I would be very interested to work at Canary Wharf because it is nearer me in SE London. Is this just for particular staff from a particular department or will the hub be cross-departmental?

  20. Comment by Dhruv Patel posted on

    Regarding the comments "Since 2014 we have reduced the Government Estate by over 1,000 properties, raising £2 billion in building sales"

    I think that this figure of £2 billion could have been a lot more if the Civil service armed with it's 400,000 workforce could have project managed and developed some of these 1000 sites, some in Prime city centre locations rather than being sold off.

    Example is the Churchill War Rooms , central London sold off to developers rather than the Civil service project managing and building luxury hotel/ flats which is valued at £1 billion itself.

    But I guess it is box ticking and achievement of £2 billion which is highlighted.