Lovegrove was standing in for Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude and his address echoed many of the strategies outlined by the latter at his Public Property Breakfast speech two weeks ago. Much in evidence again was the government’s ‘Stop & Go’ property strategy of putting a hold across all departments on the renewal of any property leases, and freeing up surplus land for housing and redevelopment.
The day’s first keynote session: ‘Outlining Government’s property strategy across the public sector’ featured Neil Warsop - Chief Operating Officer, Government Property Unit (GPU), Jenny Coombs - Project Director, Local Partnerships and Jonathan Goring - Managing Director, Capita Symonds. Giles Barrie – Editor, Property Week was Chair.
Warsop outlined how the Government’s ‘stop’ strategy had made a quick and significant impact, delivering c. £90m in the first 10 months since the election and set to double that by the end of this financial year. In terms of engaging with the private sector he explained how the GPU’s strategy was to consolidate internally first (to ‘get its own house in order first’ by tackling the ‘low hanging fruits’) before looking to the private sector to help with total workplace management and help it to ‘generate greater savings that the public sector can achieve alone’.
Warsop also illustrated what the government was doing to promote growth (the ‘Go’ part of its strategy) through the release of surplus land by departments and also the opportunities for stimulating regeneration through the potential relocation of government departments.
‘Does this country know what it owns?’ was the question posed by Jonathan Goring - focusing on the need for a better understanding – across both public and private sectors – of both local and central government property assets.
Both sectors can only fully understand efficiency, he asserted, when there is a clear picture of what assets are owned. Examples of where this date would be invaluable included the better collection of leaked revenues, rents and license fees across numerous departments such as Defence, Environment and Justice.
Jenny Coombs outlined how the best local authorities had been working on the property rationalisation challenge for many years and that the ‘argument had been won’ a long time ago at local government level on the value of rationalisation.
Coombs also pointed to a shift in approach by local authorities to co-location and shared facilities (something that Councils have perhaps been resistant to in the past). The scale of the deficit and the need for savings had driven this, forcing them to work together and redesign services.
It was clear that high performing local authorities are ‘well ahead’ of central government in their rationalisation of properties under their control – this, suggested Goring, was both because they have been doing it for longer and also that they have more fully embraced – so far – the ethos of workplace transformation and new ways of working. Both Goring and Coombs encouraged the GPU to look at the best practice already being achieved in some local authorities and engage with its local government partners more in achieving its own, much larger challenges.
In summing up the session Giles Barrie emphasised how simple property asset management – drawing on the expertise of both the public and private sectors – can achieve so much in terms of its contribution to the government’s deficit reduction strategy, without the need for major cuts or an impact on frontline services.
This was a sentiment shared across the podium and with delegates at the Summit, the challenge – summed up by Goring and by questions from the floor at the end of the session – is how this process can happen at a more rapid pace and how the private sector can fully engage with government in this process.