Less is more


For the second year in a row, a public body has been awarded Estates Gazette’s coveted Collaborators Award. In 2015, the gong went to Transport for London for its work with the property sector transforming the retail experience at its stations. This year, the winner is the Government Property Unit for its work across central and local government to consolidate and improve its sprawling estate.

The GPU was established in 2010 as part of the Cabinet Office. Staffed by real estate professionals, it works with government departments, agencies, local government and the private property sector to ensure that the public estate is run as efficiently as possible.

Since its formation, the GPU has raised more than £1.8bn in capital receipts from the sale of assets and reduced the size of the government estate by almost a quarter, exiting some 2.4m sq ft (see box, p6).

Prior to the GPU’s establishment, there was no single body co-ordinating the government estate, which led to a lack of coherence in estate management and contributed to the gradual accumulation of government-owned property.

Much of the GPU’s early work has been focused on central government and the Whitehall estate. The London estate has been reduced from 181 separate properties in 2010 to around 50 today. It has a target of reducing this number to 20 by 2025.

Now the unit is expanding its work outside the capital to advise local authorities and the wider public sector. This work includes the creation of a number of hubs across the country as the GPU works towards its goal of reducing the government estate from 800 buildings to fewer than 200 by 2023.

Current plans are for 16 hubs in England totalling 7.4m sq ft. Three hubs will be established in London, with a 184,000 sq ft hub for HM Revenue & Customs at Stanhope and Schroders’ Ruskin Square in Croydon, south London, already confirmed, a 1.5m sq ft hub earmarked for Stratford, E16, and talks under way for a 400,000 sq ft hub at Canary Wharf, E14.

Ruskin Square, Croydon
Ruskin Square, Croydon

There are also active requirements for space in Peterborough, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Preston/Blackpool, Liverpool, Carlisle and Exeter.

Birmingham’s hub will provide 850,000 sq ft while Manchester’s initial requirement stands at 650,000 sq ft, with an option to extend to 950,000 sq ft.

Strategic hubs are also due to launch in Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Wales between 2019 and 2023.

JLL is handling the process.

The multi-departmental campuses are designed to achieve economies of scale, enable easier cross-departmental collaboration and improve recruitment and retention.

The GPU says: “Collaborative working is at the heart of this programme as the GPU and central government departments examine every inch of the government office estate to deliver an environment that is flexible, accessible and firmly rooted in future needs.”

Alongside the hubs, the GPU has launched the One Public Estate initiative as part of its support programme for local authorities seeking to deliver ambitious property-focused projects. It is being jointly delivered by the GPU and the Local Government Association.

The GPU says the partnership is delivering a “more efficient public sector estate by building trust, sharing learning, and supporting activity with stakeholders across the public sector”.

It says that silos between local and central government and the wider public sector have been broken down, maximising benefits for the taxpayer and showing how property can be a catalyst to boosting local growth, driving more customer-focused services, and delivering efficiency savings.

The OPE began as a pilot programme with 12 local authorities in 2013. A year later, 20 more joined. In December 2015, the government announced an expansion to the OPE programme backed with £6m of central government funding. More than 100 local authorities working in 24 partnerships joined this third phase.

The OPE partnerships are forecasting benefits of at least £138m in capital receipts, £56m in running cost savings, 36,000 new jobs and 16,500 new homes by 2020 as a result of this approach.

Larger partnerships across devolved areas, city regions and neighbouring councils will unlock potential to deliver even more ambitiously together. As part of the OPE, the GPU says councils will not only be better equipped and supported, but will also be able to drive change more quickly.

Making collaboration count

92m sq ft

size of the government estate, a 20% reduction from 2010


amount expected to be raised from asset sales by 2020


cost of running the estate in 2014-15, a 28% reduction since 2010

112 sq ft

amount of space per person in 2014-15, a 20% reduction since 2010


number of properties exited since May 2010, more than one a day