Photo Steph Gray/Flickr
The UK government has released a new strategy to save money by selling government properties, using modern building materials and energy sources, and reducing rental spending.
The government’s buildings strategy, published on August 31, could generate more than £2 billion ($2.3 billion) in savings, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Government Efficiency.
British state ownership includes “hundreds of thousands of assets, from prisons and courts to schools and museums, hospitals and medical practices, employment centres, military bases [and] administrative offices,” with annual running costs of £21.7 billion (US$25.1 billion).
The offices would be sold or vacated over the next three years as the government pushes ahead with its program to move more civil service jobs out of London and rationalize existing buildings as government centres.
Sales of these assets are expected to save £1.5 billion (US$1.7 billion) over the next three years, and a further £500 million (US$576.8 million) from upon termination of the leases.
“The public realm has the potential to be at the forefront of improving society, helping to make our streets safer, supporting the NHS and educating children and adults,” said Rees. -Mogg.
In the strategy document, he added: “If we are successful, this strategy can inspire real transformational change and deliver better and more effective government.
While 7,000 positions have already been transferred from London, the new strategy reiterated the Places for Growth program’s aim to move an additional 22,000 civil service jobs and 50% of senior civil service positions based in the UK out of the capital by 2030. Most of the 7,000 transferred jobs (1,389) have moved to Yorkshire and the Humber. More than 500 posts from the Home Office, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care have been transferred to Leeds. Together, the Department of Education and Home Office account for around 250 transferred posts currently based in Sheffield.
“It will also help us implement the Places for Growth program, which will deliver greater cost savings and mean government is closer to the communities it serves,” Rees-Mogg said.
Rebuild smaller, greener
Part of the goal of better managing its real estate portfolio will be to strengthen the implementation of the government’s 25-year environmental plan to reduce emissions, as well as its government commitments to greening.
According to the government’s strategy announcement, carbon emissions from its estate have already fallen by 57% since 2009, and water consumption and waste from state services have been reduced by 14% and 51 % respectively. The government also said it had reduced the number of offices in central London from 63 in April 2018 to 36.
This strategy is one of many fronts on which the government is seeking to make the public service more efficient. Last month, Rees-Mogg said the Cabinet Office would lose a quarter of its staff over the next three years, paving the way for “significant reform as well as cost savings” ahead of what he called “the next storm of inflation”.
Read more: Cabinet Office to cut 25% of staff in ‘War on Whitehall waste’
His announcement followed the previous announcement of the government’s plan to bring the civil service workforce down to 2016 levels by cutting 91,000 positions from the workforce. These reductions dovetail with questions about the government’s current building footprint and the best use of its buildings.
In response to the latest strategy announcement, Dave Penamn, General Secretary of the FDA Union, tweeted: “Finally, it [Rees-Mogg] realizes that greater labor flexibility provides better value for the taxpayer. The only question is why it took so long.
However, Rees-Mogg also claimed office sales would be the result of civil servants working from home. The minister has led a campaign to bring more civil servants back to their offices after the shift to remote working during the pandemic, but he told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘We have seen over the last year that expensive office space in central London have been underutilized. Why should the taxpayer pay for half-empty buildings? »
Last month, Rees-Mogg also launched a review of ‘flexitime’ arrangements which allow civil servants to work irregular hours of their choosing, with many choosing to work from home full-time. He criticized what he called a “culture of waste” perpetuated by civil servants’ aversion to office work, adding that working in the same spaces as colleagues would mean “more job satisfaction for civil servants”.
Read more: Jacob Rees-Mogg to investigate ‘culture of waste’ in Whitehall
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