Collaboration across local authorities, public services and between central and local government is often lauded as the gold standard when it comes to best practice. But few schemes are as wide reaching as the One Public Estate (OPE) programme.
Launched in 2013, the achievements of OPE were recognised when the team won the collaboration title at the Civil Service Awards in 2016. “We were absolutely delighted to win,” programme manager Kirsty Rouillard says. “[Our work] had reached a third of local authorities [by then] and we were starting to see results but were somewhat flying under the radar. To have that recognition was really motivating for the team.”
Three years on and the ethos of the programme has not changed – it is still focused on encouraging joint working between two or more public bodies to bolster economic growth, drive efficiency savings and deliver better public services to transform local communities – but its reach has grown. From an initial 12 pilot areas (including Bristol, Essex, Hull, Nottingham and Portsmouth), the team has now supported more than 450 projects across 95% of the local authorities in England, and 13 government departments. By 2020, it’s estimated that those projects will have delivered £56m in savings, have created 44,000 jobs, unlocked land for 25,000 homes and cut running costs by £158m.
“There isn’t anything duplicated across government at this scale,” Rouillard says. “We bring partners together to think about their assets and their ambitions, and identify opportunities to work collaboratively to deliver something that is better for them and their local communities.
We’re there to be a neutral broker ... [and are] very flexible in the way that we work – we can support the health agenda, we can support the housing agenda, we can support a wide variety of different deliverables that cross the divide between local and central government.”
The team itself is made up of members of the Cabinet Office’s Government Property Unit and the Local Government Association. While not a housing programme specifically, OPE partners are encouraged to use property and public land to find efficiencies and boost local growth. The flexible nature of the scheme means what that looks like can vary wildly. The team is working with the Ministry of Defence, for example, to release nine of its sites for housing, a move that is expected to save the department almost £3 billion in running costs by 2040. Work has also been done with the Department for Health and Social Care to draw up plans to build 3,000 homes for NHS staff on surplus NHS land across five London boroughs. Cornwall has worked with OPE to introduce 10 integrated public service hubs around the county (bringing council offices, health, the Job Centre Plus and emergency services under one roof), and added its first tri-blue-light services officer – a trained paramedic, police and fire officer – in 2015. And in York, a partnership has been agreed between the City of York Council, National Rail, Homes England and the National Railway Museum, to regenerate York Central Station across a 72 hectare site, building 1,500 new homes and adding 100,000 square metres of commercial space.
‘We were somewhat flying under the radar. To have that recognition was really motivating for the team’
OPE’s input on projects includes funding – it contributed £200,000 to the early stages of the York project for example, and has distributed around £40m to projects to date – as well as helping to identify local opportunities, mapping existing assets and monitoring the projects’ progress via regional programme managers. “Those regional managers are really important,” Rouillard explains, “because they enable us to help identify [and diffuse] some of the risks and opportunities. It might be a local authority can’t gain access to a central government department; it might be helping them identify funding streams they can apply to; it might be in developing business cases; it might be [helping to think] through how to move [a project] forward.
“Local authorities are best placed to make those decisions in local areas,” she adds. “[But] we’ve been able to help them think on a larger scale and to recognise what opportunities they have.” There are challenges that come with working in this way, she admits, particularly as the OPE team operates in an advisory role and does not make any of the project decisions themselves. There can also be resistance when juggling multiple priorities and deadlines across the various partners. “We are working across many different agendas and they bring their own challenges,” she says. “For us it’s about not applying our own assumptions. It’s letting those partners decide for their own areas.”
The team hopes to take the OPE model to more local authorities, particularly in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and to explore the potential of encouraging partnerships between public and private sector bodies. Prioritising collaborative working is something Rouillard believes would also be beneficial for the wider civil service, particularly when it comes to optimising current performance. “[Different departments] can’t always [work together] but we should share more and talk about best practice,” she says. “Let’s think about where we can get more [out of what we have] by being more collaborative.”
The Civil Service Awards are accepting nominations until the 26th July. For more information please visit the site here.