The Cabinet Office’s revised Government Estates Strategy has pledged to relocate civil service posts around the country to boost local growth and has insisted that it will move “thousands” of public servants out of London by 2030.
Today’s plan sets out the government’s vision of a public estate for public benefit and names three priorities – using government’s property portfolio to drive growth and opportunity, supporting a ‘brilliant civil service’, and delivering value.
As part of the objective to boost growth and opportunity, the plans to locate more civil service jobs outside of London are intended to increase “the presence of government and major cultural bodies across the whole of the United Kingdom”.
The plan stated that by the end of this Parliament in 2022, “we will use our estate and the location of our civil service to help boost local growth”, but the specific commitment covers a longer time period. It said: “Over the next twelve years we will create the foundations to locate up to a thousand public sector jobs out of London and the surrounding area as a first step of a major, long-term programme which will move many organisations and thousands of jobs, including a full range of professions and senior grades.”
However, the Cabinet Office has told CSW after this story was first published that the pledge is to move 1,000 posts out of London by the end of the current parliament in 2022, with “thousands more” to follow. A spokesperson acknowledged that the wording in the strategy was “ambiguous” but insisted that the aim was for up to 1,000 posts to move before the next planned general election.
In the first step, public sector jobs will be located “to support the development of at least three specialist clusters in cities across the UK by the end of this Parliament”.
The proposal comes after the Conservative election manifesto pledged to shift more government functions and arm's-length bodies out to the regions. “We will start moving significant numbers of UK government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK,” the manifesto stated.
The intention to move the posts is also tied to the government’s Industrial Strategy aim to boost development outside London.
Today’s plan, which was prepared by the Cabinet Office’s Office of Government Property, acknowledged that this will require “honest conversations between departments on what activities need to be based in Whitehall, and which do not”.
It added: “These will set out to build on stronger functional leadership, supported where relevant by the infrastructure provided by government hubs, and a focus on achieving synergies across departments to deliver activities such as analysis, communications and business support”.
More hubs planned
An expansion of the hubs programme, which has so far been primarily focused on HMRC moving staff from 170 current offices into 13 hubs, is planned to support the ‘brilliant civil service’ aim by providing modern offices and greater flexible working.
“Around 20” hubs will be created, according to the new plan, and these will be supported by a network of local mini hubs around the country, with an overall aim to reduce the office buildings in which central government operates from 800 to around 200. This is expected to save an estimated £2.5bn in running costs over 20 years.
In addition, the plan commits to managing the Whitehall estate to create “efficient, fit-for-purpose buildings”. The plan highlights that, from 180 properties in central London in 2010, only 63 remain, and the aim is to reduce this to only 20. These remaining offices in the capital will have “flexible space, shared services and, where the work is not security sensitive, integrated security systems – including a common access pass”.
The strategy’s delivering value strand is focused on better asset management through a more commercial approach, with the newly-formed Government Property Agency to manage both the hubs and the wider government office estate.
Establishing the GPA is expected to deliver £3.6bn of savings over 20 years, according to the plan, with the additional savings made through what civil service chief executive John Manzoni called “a more proactive approach that considers property as a platform for the delivery of government’s wider objectives”.
In his foreword, Manzoni said that the new plan would also provide the flexibility that was vital as the government planned for Brexit.
“The digital and information revolution has shown that the future is hard to predict,” he said.
“Overall civil service numbers have fallen in recent years, but changes do not just happen in a single direction. As part of our preparations for leaving the European Union we will be repatriating jobs from Brussels, and creating new jobs here in the UK.
“We therefore need to ensure we manage the overall asset portfolio efficiently, but also flexibly to enable us to contract or expand the supply of property as demand changes.”
In his ministerial foreword, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden highlighted that the foundations for today’s priorities were set by the last Estate Strategy in 2014.
An estimated £2bn has been raised in asset sales and £300m saved in annual running costs through disposal of over 1000 properties since 2014, according to the report.
This means that the government estate is already cheaper and easier to run and allows more houses to be built on surplus government land, Dowden said.
“We will house a Brilliant Civil Service in modern, flexible workspaces – ensuring that we are a more diverse workforce that better reflects all four nations of the UK. And we will release more surplus land to build homes, and deliver better public services that are closer and more accessible to the communities which they serve,” he added.
In order to meet the government target to release land for at least 160,000 homes, the OGP will establish a new high-level property panel, comprising property delivery bodies across government that will share expertise, explore common standards and help deliver key priorities including the release of land for housing.