Efficiency is top of the mind for governments all over the world. In the UK, this extends to the physical spaces that make up the government.

The Government Property Agency (GPA) was set up recently to centrally own and manage government offices. Among other goals, the agency hopes to maximise on existing property space to release more land for housing and other uses.

“What we are doing is setting up a body which will be the equivalent to an asset management company, which will relieve departments of the need to actually be asset managers themselves,” Liz Peace, chair of the GPA, was quoted as saying by Civil Service World.

Services under one roof

By centralising asset management, the UK government hopes to better use government land, while at the same time, grouping public services to better suit citizens. It is estimated that GPA will generate benefits of up to £2.4 billion over the next ten years, according to a media release.

One key initiative that this central agency will lead is the Government Hubs scheme, which will see multiple departments clustered into shared office spaces across the country. The scheme aims to reduce government estate from around 800 buildings to 200 by 2023, and in the process, save up to £2.4 billion over 10 years.

The agency hopes to establish around 20 of these hubs, one of which will be located at Canary Wharf. This particular hub will house a total of 5,700 officials from 12 departments, who will be moving out of Whitehall – long considered the heart of the UK civil service.

The One Public Estate programme, on the other hand, is a national initiative to bring frontline services under one roof, such as employment and benefits services. As one example, the West Suffolk Partnership is grouping together services such as education, health, and police to be delivered from one or two sites instead of eight. This could reduce the running costs of the public estate by half over 25 years.

The numbers show encouraging progress. According to the Government Estate Strategy published in July, the government has saved over £300 million per annum in running
costs through the disposal of over 1,000 properties. Today, only 1.4% of the central government estate comprises vacant space, while the private sector average is 9%, the CSC report said.

Finding balance

However, there have been fears that the centralisation of property management will lead to civil servants being crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into cheap buildings to save money. Peace noted how “at the moment government is not a growth business”, and that the objective is “to manage effectively a smaller central government function”.

The key to the success of GPA would be to find the balance between cutting costs, creating value, and transforming service delivery, according to GPA CEO Ian Playford. “Smart working is not just about funky sofas and collaborative space. If they [civil servants] are working in a way that suits them you’re going to get 20% more productivity out of them,” Playford said.

What’s more, it is not about simply finding land to dispose, or catering to the housing market – but to “reconcile the two”, according to Peace.

All over the world, governments are realising the benefits of effective real estate management. Global geospatial analytics provider Esri is supporting this shift with the launch of the Esri Singapore User Conference 2018, which will share how GIS technology is crucial in leasing and managing government land and assets.

Register here for the Esri Singapore User Conference 2018 on 27 September.