“The Government Property Unit needs greater clout to mandate action across Whitehall,” said the committee’s chair, Margaret Hodge. “The unit should lead from the front, ensuring that government plans are centralised and making use of the government’s buying power to negotiate better terms with major landlords on a standardised basis, rather than departments doing it building by building.”
The committee said that if government is “more ambitious” in its approach, it could save more than £800m a year by 2020. It also called on the Treasury to better incentivise departments to share property and deliver savings.
“Savings up to now have largely been achieved by departments working alone. If savings are to be maximised in future, departments will need financial incentives to work together to share space and sell excess property,” Hodge said.
The committee also believes that government lacks an overall strategy for what its future office estate and potential savings will look like beyond 2012-‘13.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “One of the first things this government did was introduce strict property controls across departments and we are pleased that the PAC has recognised the savings we have made so far.”
He added: “But we want to go further to find savings and to make more innovative, strategic use of public property”, citing pilot schemes working with local government and reusing empty office space.