The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a hunt for new office space to cope with the extra strain on its services caused by the coronavirus crisis and the need to adapt to social-distancing requirements, government documents have revealed.
The department has signed two contracts with the “corporate real estate innovation company” Incendium Consulting Ltd worth nearly £2.4m to advise on the plans, documents show.
In the biggest deal, DWP has agreed to pay Incendium, a London-based “corporate real estate innovation company”, up to £2.1m to advise on the rapid expansion of its estate.
The company will help the DWP estates strategy team to “identify and secure appropriate space opportunities until end March 2021 ensuring continuity of service with the current support and advice” over eight months, according to a contract notice.
A second contract for £70,000 covers five weeks’ work to “review and propose solutions for service delivery in response to Covid-19 and its impact on the operation of the DWP estate”.
The deal, which ran from 22 June to 24 July, was in response to an “imminent requirement” for an expansion of Covid-safe offices to meet the increased demand for face-to-face services “due to the expected economic downturn impact” of coronavirus.
DWP has moved thousands of staff to front-line roles and said it must hire extra Jobcentre consultants to deal with a massive influx of applications for financial support from people who have lost work amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Audit Office said yesterday that the recruitment drive could reverse a decade of staff cuts at the department.
The department is also trialling a hybrid remote-working system to accommodate space requirements in its offices, but the recent contracts show this will not be enough to enable it to continue operating as it needs to.
The £2.1m contract, which began in July, will include both portfolio strategy and planning, and project management. The work is set to end on 31 March, the end of the financial year.
Incendium consultants will work with DWP operations and estates staff and delivery partners to “translate demand into actual target sites”, according to an order form.
They will help to identify where extra space is needed; source available sits, including serviced, managed and “traditional” offices; develop budgets and decision-making tools; and identify and oversee the meeting of early-stage targets.
Project managers will act as an extension of the DWP Estates team, with a particular focus on setting up programmes. They will also focus on managing outputs across five workstreams: portfolio planning and site selection; leases and licences; design and fit out; services; commercial, finance, and decision making and governance.
Staff changes afoot
As the contracts were published, DWP began advertising for a director of estates, offering up to £140,000 for the position.
The post is an “unrivalled opportunity for an experienced and innovative real estate leader to provide strategic direction” to the 100-strong DWP estates team and “deliver our ambitious estates requirements and estates reform”, a job advert said.
The role, which comes with accountability for more than £500m, is being advertised via public-service business advisory company Gatenby Sanderson.
The department is also seeking a director of business strategy, who will play a “critical role in designing, influencing, and shaping the future direction of the department”.
The strategy director, who will earn up to £100,000, will work with others in the department and elsewhere in government to “identify and implement changes that improve outcomes for citizens and reduce cost”, according to a job advert.
The job includes “shaping how our data, digital, estates, people and external partnerships will change” over the next four years.
Incendium’s previous deals
Last year DWP brought in Incendium on a year-long contract worth £2m to consult on Project Strata, an estates expansion programme. The work ends in November.
In April it agreed to pay the company a further £324,000 for nine months of business consultancy on the PRIME contract, a long-running arrangement under which property company Telereal Trillium manages most of its estate.
Incendium has also consulted on several other government projects. In May, the Cabinet Office signed a £30,000 deal with the company to consult on a change management programme for the Office of Government Property, following a £20,350 contract award in January to help develop a career framework for the government property profession.