Government Estate Strategy: Value lies in more than bricks and mortar

24 Jul 2018

Our guest blogger Angela Harrowing, Deputy Director Disposals, Housing and Public Estate talks about the latest Government Estate Strategy, and why it can be a catalyst for far-reaching transformation.

The Government estate is a vast and diverse asset. In fact, it’s hundreds of thousands of assets - from ports, to hospitals and health surgeries, job centres, power stations, prisons, administrative offices, railways, schools and many more. That’s one gigantic lego set!

In the past, the estate has been seen less as an asset and more as a liability - a (large) cost on the balance sheet, and a basic necessity for Government to operate.

It’s right that we have a continued focus on efficiency - including space standards, tackling vacant space, releasing surplus land and taking a whole-life view on costs.

But the value of our estate lies in more than its bricks and mortar.

The latest Government Estate Strategy shows that the estate can be a powerful enabler and catalyst for far-reaching transformation.

Our estate exists to support Government activity - much of which is public-facing services. And, as we know, the way in which we deliver public services is changing. Easing pressure on A&E by moving services into the community means changing the NHS estate. Introducing technology and online services into our justice system means we will be less reliant on physical court buildings in the future. The introduction of Universal Credit means increasingly Job Centres are co-locating with councils to deliver a more integrated service. Estate transformation is a fundamental enabler for reforming our public services. 

Added to that, the way we work is changing. Work used to be a place - “my desk”: “I’m going to work.” Now it’s a thing we do, often from multiple places - on the train, in the cafe, at home, etc: “I’m going to work.” And that suits our more flexible ways of working and delivering services. For example, police officers used to have to return to base to write up incident reports. Now they have the tech to do that on-the-go, meaning they can spend longer on the beat and just need touchdown space (or, I’m told, somewhere for a tea and a wee). As they change the way they work, so too do their estate needs.

Our decisions on where to locate Government land and buildings and civil servants, and the type of working environment we offer, also have the power to transform places and services - boosting local growth and reforming the civil service. Our new multi-agency Government Hubs and Places for Growth programme will base civil servants in key locations across the nations and regions of the UK, linked to clusters of expertise set out in the Industrial Strategy. This will help to make Government more reflective of communities across the country. It will also enable us to draw on a broader talent pool by offering career pathways for those working outside of London, breaking the tradition that progressing to senior roles means being based in the Capital.

And we’re not just focusing on the Government estate and services. The public wants to see more joined-up public services. Through the One Public Estate programme we are supporting wider public sector bodies to collaborate on ambitious property-led schemes. Many of these are focused on bringing disparate services together under one roof, and transforming local communities.

So to deliver the best possible services we need a fit-for-purpose estate. And a broad range of partnerships – public and private – are a fundamental part of success. The commitments contained within new the Estate Strategy will do just this - delivering a government estate that truly works for everyone – a Public Estate for Public Benefit.