Peter Hogg 12 August 2014

One Public Estate

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In this age of austerity, the One Public Estate pilot is one project that provides huge benefits to local economies. By encouraging councils and other local public services to aggregate and share buildings, running costs are cut and surplus property is sold, generating capital receipts.

So with the programme set to benefit local economies to the tune of £40m and create 5,500 jobs and 7,500 homes over the next five years, the announcement that another 20 councils have been selected to take part is welcome news for the public sector.

Following the success of the first wave, with councils estimated to have saved £21 million in running costs and £88m in capital receipts, we should all have high hopes for real progress in using assets efficiently and intelligently to deliver better outcomes to local citizens, particularly in terms of service improvements, housing and job creation.

The second wave of councils to take part are in a strong position, as the first wave is able to give the ‘new kids on the block’ some important cues on where they should focus their energies to accelerate transformation.

Our own experience leads us to five themes:

1. Rapidly underwriting the strategy of collaboration with workable governance: While collaboration is one of the main drivers to a successful One Public Estate, the collaboration needs an operating structure. This needs to: embrace all participant organisations; be based around clear, shared issues; define shared terms of reference; and should enable participants to make decisions and get things done.

2. Creating a realistic programme of activity that will deliver the shared estate vision: Once the locality is clear on its vision, it can define its programme of activity by working back to identify the component parts that will deliver it. This requires the economic master plan to be a business case, a marketing plan, a physical blue-print and a delivery plan all wrapped into one.

3. Engaging the right private sector partners in the vision and plan: Successful first wave pilots engaged the private sector early and fully, recognising the range of skills, resources and outcomes needed. This requires trust and absolute clarity on what all parties want to achieve and how.

4. Focus on creating a ‘prospectus for investment’ to get moving: One Public Estate status does not mean that the pilot locations will no longer have to compete for resources and investment. Each pilot location must be able to set out a clear and compelling story to attract external interest in their aspirations and that story must stand up to detailed and expert scrutiny. Chief executives and leaders in pilots must be ready to 'sell' their proposals against global competition.

5. Understanding the network of complementary initiatives that can support the shared estate vision: It’s imperative that localities draw upon the network of complementary activity emanating from government. Often initiatives, while individually useful, are not promoted in the context of the totality of available support. Leaders of successful pilots will need to map the available support, assess what will be useful and connect to it. The centre will not do this for them.

Apply these five golden rules and the second wave of the One Public Estate pilot will make a real difference to local citizens and the economy in the 20 locations selected.

Peter Hogg is head of government & municipals at EC Harris, which worked in collaboration with the Government Property Unit to support Bristol & Hull City Council in structuring their wave one pilots.

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