The Government’s One Public Estate (OPE) programme is forecast to generate UK-wide savings in the region of £3.6bn over the next two decades. This will largely be achieved by redeveloping and repurposing underused sites for more efficient uses, a process that has been underway since OPE first launched in 2013.
Although this year’s leadership changes and the general election might impact on the direction of this programme, at the time of writing OPE is at the beginning of a 12-year plan as set out in the 2018 Government Estates Strategy. Indeed it has been reported this year that OPE has already generated £2bn by repurposing more than 1,000 properties, with £164m gained in capital receipts from land and property development.
The estate transition programme for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly BIS), is a strong example of how such savings can be achieved. This project saw a dramatic reduction in the department’s UK-wide property portfolio from 130 office sites to just 60. The relocation of 4,200 members of staff and 40% reduction of office space achieved savings estimated to be worth more than £100m per year.
Analysis from Mace earlier this year suggests that such efficiency savings could be boosted further by initiating a ‘construction revolution’ designed to enhance productivity in hotspots such as the West Midlands. By adopting new construction technologies and processes much faster, the UK’s public sector could develop productivity-enhancing hotspots which would reap benefits such as boosting the NHS by the equivalent of 13,500 new nurses.
New design, construction and operations approaches, could also help to enhance productivity in schools, allowing teachers to claim almost 50 million hours of collective working time back each year.
To achieve this, a production-focused mindset to construction must be applied across development partners in order to change the way that buildings are currently designed, manufactured and assembled. Applying a new approach to construction could prove challenging for a major programme of work such as OPE - which now incorporates 90% of the UK’s councils across 76 partnerships, 13 government departments and hundreds of health and blue light organisations – but it is an ambition we should be collectively aiming for.
By enabling more user-centric design and earlier supply chain engagement and product solutions, hospitals, schools and offices could be built in a way that improves productivity and delivers better outcomes for society. In 2017, Mace successfully demonstrated how productivity-enhancing construction can be delivered, when it invested £9m in a pioneering jump factory to bring manufacturing levels of production to a building site and built a storey of a residential tower every week. This kind of approach could easily be adapted for public sector projects to offer safer, faster and more predictable delivery.
A further recent example saw Mace complete the design of a new Defence Infrastructure Organisation Building at MOD Whittington. Mace delivered the ‘Kit of Parts’ design against an enhanced programme timeframe. The reserved matters planning application was submitted within just seven weeks of the commencement of the project.
Strategic projects can be challenging enough with an individual client, however with multiple clients involved with OPE, there is a greater requirement for strong governance, including a shared definition of the brief, programme of activity, and consensus on the overall governance arrangements.
Key challenges can be anticipated and navigated by ensuring the following questions can be answered:
• Are there clear governance arrangements in place to ensure the business case is aligned sustainably with the objectives of all partner organisations?
• Is there a clear and realistic project master-programme relating to all of the partner organisations, covering the full period of the planned delivery with defined milestones?
• Are all proposed commitments and announcements aligned to ensure that there will not be any delivery implications?
• Is there a clear strategy for how stakeholders will be managed (e.g. to ensure buy-in, overcome resistance to change, allocate risk to the party best able to manage it)?
• Are there processes in place to ensure that all parties are clear of their roles and responsibilities, and a shared understanding of the desired outcomes and programme?
No matter how the Government’s Estates Strategy might change, maximising use of public assets will continue to play a defining role in bolstering Britain’s economy. Should Britain exit from the EU, it will place further pressure on the elected prime minister to develop land for housing and major infrastructure projects, and to support businesses that are trading overseas.
Further challenges in sourcing local authority funding will also keep the pressure on. However, our public estates don’t have to be a drain on resources. With initiatives that focus on efficient and effective use of our public assets, the national estate can be a catalyst to drive positive change.
Previous projects that have been successfully completed under the OPE programme have demonstrated the levels of efficiencies that can be achieved. Projects such as the Bath and Somerset Workplaces Programme are exemplars – having replaced 12 outdated office buildings with three strategic hubs. This has brought brand new ICT, printing and telephony infrastructure to the site while helping to achieve savings of 10-15% in annual revenue, 50% reduction in document storage and 70% reduction in carbon footprint.
Such efficiencies are seen across the board in many of Mace’s workplace transformations, with projects delivered for One Public Estate gaining on average up to 50% in overall property portfolio reduction, 30% reduction in carbon emissions and up to 40% increase in space efficiency.
If we harness the benefits of our public assets properly, we can introduce new smart building technologies that will give design teams and consultants access to significantly more data about how people actually use buildings than ever before. This, coupled with smart energy systems and similar technologies, could help us to build a significantly more advanced property portfolio for the public sector. One which has people and productivity at its heart, while at the same time unlocking land for new infrastructure and much needed new homes.
Donna Heath is associate director at Mace (Midlands)