Housing Minister Baroness Hanham has called on public bodies to be innovative in the use of property in searching for responses to the Spending Review.
Councils own more than £128 billion worth of buildings and land across the country. Innovative thinking, particularly considering sharing offices with other public bodies, has the potential to realise the value of the assets and to reduce running costs.
Some councils have already started to put this into action by creating a one stop shop for local services, putting health services, job centres, and police into one area or building. Kent County Council’s asset management project found that it could save £280m over the next five years if it adopted a total place approach to property. Rationalising its £5bn property assets would also result in yearly revenue savings of £40m. If total place measures are introduced, public bodies in one area would be told to share more back office roles, cutting the demand for office space, and allowing disposals of surplus property.
Other property reduction plans are emerging. Birmingham City Council are progressing a 35% reduction in its 1 million sq ft back office estate and Somerset County Council have recently approved plans to vacate 40% of its office space. An asset management pilot study by the Improvement and Efficiency Partnership in the West Midlands found that there is a potential to save £640m over the next ten years.
Savings on the property budget can also be made by using technology to manage the assets. Halton Borough Council has adopted Concerto Support Systems asset management software. Phil Dutton, the strategic asset manager said: “Managing the council’s properties – everything from schools to local authority buildings means that the department has a plethora of information – everything from placing orders, repairs, major contracts, deals, leases and even land registry applications have to be monitored and tracked.”