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Government Property Conference 2017: Chris Skidmore speech

Chris Skidmore opened the Government Property Conference to launch the latest State of the Estate report.

Good morning, and welcome. It is great to see such a large turnout for today’s event, with representatives from across both the public and private sectors.

Today is a celebration of government property, and what we can achieve with it.

Government is one of the largest landlords in the country, and we have a responsibility to use and manage our estate efficiently and effectively.

We have a responsibility to deliver savings to the taxpayer, to provide a high quality working environment for civil servants, and to ensure that property does not lie vacant, but is put to good use for public benefit.

Since the inception of the Government Property Unit in 2010, this is what we in the Cabinet Office have been striving to do.

And it is something at which we have been very successful.

I am delighted to be here today at the Government Property Conference to launch the latest State of the Estate report, which shows the remarkable progress we have made in rationalising and improving the estate.

In just a year since the last report, we have reduced the size of the estate by over 300,000 square meters - the equivalent of seven Wembley stadiums.

We have reduced the number of holdings within the estate from 4,900 holdings to 4,653 - a decrease of 5 per cent in a year.

We have reduced vacant space by a third. Vacant space now only represents 1.4% of the entire central estate – well below the private sector average of 8.9%.

The reduced cost of running the estate has made savings of £176 million in a year.

Since the first report in 2010, the overall size of the government estate has fallen by a quarter.

In the last year we have also secured almost a billion pounds in capital receipts from the sale of properties that are not being used any more. This is a brilliant start to our commitment to deliver £5 billion worth of land sales by 2020, which will in turn provide enough land for 160,000 homes.

Sales of iconic buildings such as Admiralty Arch and the Old War Office not only put money back into the public purse, but also ensure that such beautiful, historic buildings are carefully refurbished and put back to productive use. Such care is being taken to restore Admiralty Arch that the building’s original door knobs will be reproduced for modern use in the hotel. Rather than lie empty, the sale of this site breathes life into an unused building.

We are taking a similarly thorough approach to our office estate. The revolutionary Government Hubs programme will reduce government office buildings around the country from around 800 to around 200, generating savings of over £2.2 billion. It will do this by consolidating fragmented office space in towns and cities into larger, multi-departmental buildings.

Our commitment to the regions is not just in the devolution of political power to local authorities. Government should be seen and felt across the country.

Ensuring government is represented across the country, we will establish hubs in every corner of the UK, in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. These are strategic locations offering excellent public transport connections, local amenities and a modern working environment. They will bring increased footfall and spending to the towns and cities where they are based, and will ensure that civil servants enjoy good working conditions, wherever they work.

Just two months ago, we announced our Canary Wharf Government Hub, which will see almost 6,000 civil servants move from Whitehall to East London.

This is a momentous move, and breaks the historic transition of civil servants being clustered in Whitehall. By breaking away from tradition, we will save over £20m a year in running costs, and the building will host 12 different government departments, who will work amongst each other in shared spaces, working to break down inter-departmental silos.

This is the first of many hubs that will be announced in the course of the coming year.

It is not just remarkable that we are rolling out multi-departmental buildings. We will be at the forefront of the Smart Working revolution. The fit-out of our buildings will enable civil servants to choose where, when and how they work. There is a proven link between giving autonomy to people over the way they work and increasing their productivity, and our Hubs will encourage this way of working.

Consolidating office buildings allows us to reduce the space per full time employee. Because our Hubs will be tailor-made for flexible working, and civil servants will not be tied to one desk all day, our space requirements are different. People will be able to work in the environment that best suits the task at hand - whether that is a break-out area, a meeting room, or from home. This flexibility allows civil servants to work in the most productive way, and also reduces our office footprint.

We long ago reached our target of 10 square meters per person, and have now set ourselves a new target. We intend to reduce the space per person to eight square metres per person by the end of March next year.

Civil servants deserve to work in buildings that are modern, well-connected and flexible. Hubs will deliver this.

At the last Government Property Conference, we said that we were planning to set up a new central body to take ownership of all relevant government land and property.

One year on, and we have made significant progress.

The new body, which will be called the Government Property Agency, is now in shadow running, it has an executive team in place, and we are expecting it to go live before the end of the year.

This new agency will deliver further savings by providing professional asset management services across the government portfolio. It has been established in order to take a more commercial approach to leases and will compete with the best of the private sector.

We have also had success on a local level. Our One Public Estate programme, which many of you in the room will already be familiar with, supports local government in order to use land and property to boost growth. The programme provides grants and practical advice, and allows those who know their area best to deliver the services that their communities need.

In Cornwall, that was the integration of fire, police and ambulance services to release two development sites and save on running costs. In Sutton, it was development of a state-of-the-art new cancer hub.

One Public Estate is a local programme, and it delivers.

The numbers are impressive. It is expected to deliver 44,000 jobs, 25,000 homes and £415 million from land sales. Almost three quarters of all councils are now on board, and we are aiming to extend this to 95 per cent by next year.

The successes of the past year are myriad, and our ambitions for the coming years are many.

The achievements of the past year are something that we as a department can be very proud of, because of the tangible difference that our programmes have made to people’s lives - be that a civil servant working in a top notch new building, or a first time buyer benefitting from a local authority releasing land for housing through One Public Estate.

We will continue to manage our estate to ensure that we get the very best value from it, and are excited to see it deliver.


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