Councils must join Whitehall’s property reduction drive, says Cabinet Office

4 Feb 16

Councils will have to publish property rationalisation plans as part of a drive to cut the size of the public sector estate, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock has announced.

Publishing an update to the government’s property strategy, Hancock also announced a target to cut the Whitehall’s property portfolio by three quarters before 2023 as part of plans to save £2bn.

The State of the Estate report for 2014/15, published yesterday, revealed the total Whitehall estate is now below 5,000 holdings for the first time.

It had been reduced in size by 22% since 2010 through selling underused property as well as leaving rented offices and sharing spaces. This had reduced the running cost by 28%, with a total of £842m saved in 2014/15 alone, Hancock stated.

The target was now to reduce the total number of government offices from 800 to 200 by 2023, he added, and there was also a need for local authorities to increase transparency by publishing their own estate rationalisation data.

Provisions would be introduced in the government’s Housing and Planning Bill to require local authorities to report on their assets in a similar fashion to the Cabinet Office’s report, he said.

This would compel councils to publish information on surplus assets that they have retained for longer than two years, or just six months for housing, as well as giving a reason for doing so.

Hancock added this would increase transparency by showing the public how they are rationalising their estates, while freeing up brownfield sites to build more homes.

“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.

“[This] 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.”

According to the report, taxpayers own over £300bn worth of land and buildings based on Whole of Government Accounts valuations, with the Ministry of Defence alone owning approximately 1% of all UK land.

Over 100 councils are already part of the One Public Estate programme, which is intended to cut costs by sharing offices and other rationalisations.