Civil servants set to exit another 20 Whitehall buildings

Government Property Strategy sets out plans to reduce core estate from current 36 buildings to 16

By Jim Dunton

01 Sep 2022

Whitehall’s core estate will shrink to just 16 buildings over the next few years as part of efforts to reduce running costs and move roles away from the capital, according to the latest Government Property Strategy.

The so-called Whitehall Campus includes departmental headquarters such as the Cabinet Office’s 70 Whitehall  base, the Department for Work and Pensions’ Tothill Street HQ and the Marsham Street building where the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are based.

Government has already significantly reduced the number of central London offices it occupies in recent years. In 2010 there were 181, which had dropped to 63 by 2018, when plans to reduce to a core of 20 Whitehall Campus buildings were set out. The latest strategy looks to shrink that number by a further four.

The timescale for closures is unclear, but the target is aligned with the Places for Growth programme to relocate 22,000 civil service roles from London to the regions by 2030 and work to improve the quality and efficiency of the government estate to meet net-zero carbon emissions commitments.

CSW asked the Cabinet Office which buildings were earmarked for closure. It said details would be set out “in the usual way” over the next few years.

According to the strategy, a new “Plan for London” is being developed to drive the further consolidation of government’s central London offices. The move to a core of 16 Whitehall Campus buildings is mentioned in a section of measures earmarked for delivery “by 2025”, however it does not categorically state that the reduction in building numbers will have been achieved by then.

The most likely scenario is that the additional Whitehall buildings earmarked for closure will have been identified by then and exit plans put in place.

The Cabinet Office’s Whitehall Campus programme is one of the 235 schemes forming part of the Government’s Major Projects Portfolio. As of March this year it was rated “amber”. It has a nominal project end date of March 2026, however a number of elements have been deferred to the 2024 Spending Review, pushing back its end date to 2030 to align with Places for Growth.

The Whitehall Campus programme is closely linked to the government hubs programme, which is providing extra office capacity outside of central London and in the regions. The latest property strategy says that “up to 50 additional hubs” could be delivered by 2030 in the next two phases of the programme.

Government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Whitehall office closures would generate £1.5bn over the coming three years, while a further £500m of savings will be made by reducing operating costs.

“We are cutting the cost of the public estate so that we can return money to the taxpayer,” he said.

“All spending on government property needs to be justified. This will also help us deliver the Places for Growth programme, which will allow greater savings and mean the government is closer to the communities it serves.”

The 2018 Government Estate Strategy said that while around 20% of civil servants were based in London, accommodating them accounted for 45% of government’s “total estate costs”.

It said having staff in the capital was more than three times costlier than in the regions, even before higher London salaries were taken into account.

Elsewhere, the new Government Property Strategy pledges to deliver a “leading” learning offer for the Government Property Profession’s 7,000 members, improve market engagement with a new “digital shopfront” for surplus property, and replace the e-PIMS central property database.

In July the National Audit Office warned that poor data posed a “major risk” to the government’s plans to drive more efficient use of its property holdings. The delayed delivery of the InSite package that will replace e-PIMS was cited as a contributing factor.

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