Office-sharing incentives needed for town halls and Whitehall, MPs urge
Local authorities should work with central government departments to make greater savings on office property, an influential Commons Committee has urged.
According to a report issued by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on 31 August, work undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government’s capital asset pathfinders programme suggests there is potential to go much further in reducing office costs.
But the Cabinet Office - which is now responsible for overseeing efficiencies in the civil estate through the Government Property Unit (GPU) - informed MPs a lack of incentives for central and local government to share space is stymieing the scope to make clear savings.
Chair of the PAC, Margaret Hodge, said the GPU needs greater clout to mandate action across Whitehall and should show far greater leadership in driving collaborations.
‘Many public sector buildings belong to local government so the Unit should maximise opportunities for local public sector bodies, such as local authorities and the NHS, to share space with central government,’ said Ms Hodge.
Ms Hodge attacked as ‘wasteful’ the government policy of consolidating its office estate, saying it would lead to the mothballing of unused buildings and risks urban blight. She lambasted the Government for being ‘lamentably slow in delivering on its commitment to make more properties available to small businesses’ and urged it to get on with selling buildings, rather than holding on in the hope of a future rise in property prices’.
In response a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said more than 250 freeehold properties had been sold by Government, generating £640m in sales, while running costs fell by £200m in 2011/12.
‘But we want to go further to find savings and to make more innovative, strategic use of public property,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘We are working with Bristol City Council and Preston Council on pilot property projects across the wider public sector. We have also identified empty office spaces which will be offered to SMEs and are exploring how others could be used for free schools.’
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