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Civil Service

The State of the Estate

John ManzoniToday, the Government Property Unit launched its annual State of the Estate report, assessing the efficiency and sustainability of the property in the government estate.

We have made fantastic progress over the last year, and there are some impressive figures to share.

  • Over the course of a year, the government estate has reduced by 300,000 square metres – the equivalent of seven Wembley stadiums.
  • Vacant space in the central estate declined by over a third, meaning that it now represents just 1.4% of the central estate. Considering that the average in the private sector is 8.9%, this is a  considerable achievement.
  • We have made running-cost savings of £176 million – a reduction of over 7%.  
  • And we have secured almost £1 billion in capital receipts from the sale of surplus properties, including Admiralty Arch and the Old War Office. This is a notable step towards the commitment to securer £5 billion in receipts by 2020, which will release land sufficient for 160,000 homes.

Impressive as these numbers are, the work we do on the government estate is about more than savings for the taxpayer or reducing the size of the estate.

I have written here before about our Government Hubs and One Public Estate programmes – the latter of which was recently extended to cover 72% of all local authorities

These initiatives show our commitment to rethinking the way the Civil Service works and uses its property.

The Hubs programme, in particular, enables us to take advantage of advances in technology to help us work more collaboratively and give civil servants more power over how and when they work

This is ‘smart working’ in action, and it is revolutionising the way we operate. It is an integral part of the new Hubs programme, but it is happening all over the Civil Service as well.

Some of the best examples of Smart Working were celebrated at the recent TW3 (The Way We Work) Awards at the BT Tower in London.

Winners included the Home Office, whose Smarter Working Programme led to the design of a groundbreaking new office building in Manchester. This offered staff flexibility in their working arrangements and provided them with modern technology. Staff surveys showed increased staff satisfaction, motivation and engagement as a result.

The Department for Transport was also recognised for how it has made Smart Working part of its brand to attract and retain talented employees. Because Smart Working is introduced from the outset,with blogs, webchats and face-to-face presentations used to embed it as a default working practice during the induction process, new staff understand it to be a fundamental part of their values. The success of this initiative has led to the department running a location-neutral recruitment pilot, where they will advertise posts that can be filled in any location.

The Infrastructure Projects Authority was another winner, for its online social network, ‘The Government Project Delivery Community (GovPDC)’, which is used across the whole of government. GovPDC was launched last autumn to help people working in project delivery connect with each other.

As a Civil Service, it is vital that we embrace the opportunities that innovation and technology offer us to improve our working environment, enable more collaboration between and across departments and, in turn deliver better outcomes for the public.

'A great place to work' logoThe TW3 Award winners are fantastic examples of how we are making the Civil Service a ‘Great Place to Work’, one of the four pillars of  ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’. As progress in Smart Working continues, I look forward to seeing more of these examples in the months and years to come.

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  1. Comment by Anon posted on

    It is hilarious to watch people randomly wandering around our building in a morning desperately seeking somewhere to sit. Some of these people have travelled for hours. Please do not call "not having a desk" modern ways of working!

  2. Comment by C posted on

    Plenty of self congratulations about saving money, but nothing written about moving from area's where properties are expensive (i.e london) to area's of the country where the cost of properties are considerably lower.

    And while aiming to generate £5 billion from the sale of surplus properties is admirable, these ought not to be at the expense of retaining rented sites which will end up costing more over the longer term.

  3. Comment by S posted on

    All this does is restrict opportunities for people with caring responsibilities living in more remote locations to advance their careers. So much for the emphasis on diversity and social mobility - almost every HEO job I have seen advertised lately has required relocation or frequent travel to York, Bristol or London.

  4. Comment by Lesley posted on

    PCS have a 7 week consultation period to discuss future office closures with staff. Staff were e-mailed a 'Building for our Future' information pack for operations and Team Leaders received a managers version. We have been advised that staff can have 1-1 meetings with their Team Leaders to establish any difficulties they may have in travelling to their new identified locations by Public Transport. Unfortunately, many staff have only received information that it will be somewhere in North Cardiff. Therefore, how can these staff explain the difficulties they may have if they don't know the exact location. We should be given this information in advance of the 1-1 discussions so staff can work out how they would get to the proposed new location by public transport and what difficulties this would present to them.

  5. Comment by john posted on

    Shall I be the first to mention "selling the family silver"

  6. Comment by Susan posted on

    As someone who works on a site earmarked for 'closure' I'm finding it hard to understand the rationale behind all of this. DIO are handing over the sites to HCA. It is then HCAs responsibility to dispose of the sites. Our site, although big, is not suitable for housing, nor wanted by the local council. We have great facilities, and I'm sure the costs involved in moving us would more than cover the costs of upgrading the site and using it to its full potential again. If/when the site closes I'm sure that no-one has thought about the effects it will have on the local communities in terms of jobs, etc? And if it is handed over, my guess is it will still be standing empty in another 20 years time. Just drive up the A1 for proof of that.

  7. Comment by Anon posted on

    Another back of a fag packet policy. An excellent Civil service that has not even considered the different requirements of each department to deliver it's business and then combine those to consider where best offices might be placed. Hubs are OK but too regional leaving employees who work more locally to look at leaving or packages and the civil service losing experience. Although new blood is a gain, a balance is needed and people need to be able to work locally. I was surprised by the DfT example of advertising jobs at any location when my own department is looking to ensure teams are located together to avoid remote management rather than being IT proactive. A lot of heartache for staff unable to continue in their job because they do not use the same office as team colleagues. No consistency so a very mixed message depending upon where you work. Politics indeed!

  8. Comment by Tracy Taylor posted on

    I fail to see how in the long run, selling property in favour of renting or leasing can be more cost effective! Is this all more about 'cash to bank' which seems to be at the forefront of HMRC's strategies lately. There are still running costs to consider whichever way you utilise a building so nothing changes there. Why are HMRC not utilising the buildings they already own instead of signing lengthy leases and giving taxpayers money away to profitable fat cat property developers? !

  9. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    "Winners included the Home Office, whose Smarter Working Programme led to the design of a groundbreaking new office building in Manchester. This offered staff flexibility in their working arrangements and provided them with modern technology. Staff surveys showed increased staff satisfaction, motivation and engagement as a result.
    Evidence please? I work in that building and I'm not sure people there would agree with all that's being said. The real heroes in that move (which was more about consolidation than as trying to be 'smart' from Day 1) are more likely the local managers who did useful damage limitation by constantly flagging up where 'smart' ideas posed a risk to business continuity

  10. Comment by Ian Hough posted on

    Further to below the NAO report -

    At point 11 in the summary the NAO report states – “HMRC has designed its strategy to support government’s objectives to create government hubs that will be shared by government departments”

    As you can see from below the agreement between Central government and the West Midlands Combined Authority

    (originally signed by George Osbourne but since endorsed by Phillip Hammond) point 42 confirms a commitment to Civil Service Hubs in Coventry and Wolverhampton as well as Birmingham.

    HMRC are saying they have no intention of leaving a presence in Coventry or Wolverhampton which has come as a surprise to local MP's, councillors and the new Combined Authority who were not expecting an extra 1000 rush hour commuters into Birmingham City Centre in 2020 nor indeed to see the principle of not moving everything to Birmingham being ignored by HMRC.

    So now it seems HMRC’s plans in the West Midlands are conflicting with the WMCA agreement and their information supplied to the NAO – the NAO report does indicate that some BOF plans will need to change as they were over ambitious initially. Can the RIT who are shown as part of the governance process in the NAO report please take up with Jon Thompson this issue as it seems HMRC plans for the Midlands are not in line with government commitments or the GPU. It is also time for us to formally liaise with the West Midlands Combined Authority - heres the link for the RIT in case you are not aware of their existance -

    And formally let them know what HMRC plans are and how they impact on agreements, travel etc. There is another practical element to this - in about a year one to ones with almost a thousand HMRC staff in Wolverhampton and Coventry are due to begin to assess who can move to Birmingham, who can't, to work out Daily Travel Allowance for those that can and most likely consider exit packages for many. If there is going to be a Civil Service Hub and other opportunities not necessarily in HMRC but retaining a presence in two large cities surely we could work towards this now and avoid a lot of upset and heartache and keep vastly experienced trained staff in the Civil Service service whilst minimising economic impact on local businesses.

  11. Comment by Orla Murphy posted on

    I applaud the movement to more flexible working, which may benefit both organisations and staff. However, I would like to see a commitment to providing suitable spaces for staff to conduct their work. I find communal office space such as hotdesking areas are increasingly treated as 'touchdown' areas, making them loud and busy environments which many find unsuitable for work requiring a high-level of concentration. I've been shocked to discover some civil servants assume that people undertaking this type of work would (or should!) "work from home". There should be greater recognition that this is not an option for all; many civil servants live in accommodation that does not lend itself to homeworking or, such as my own rented accommodation, where working is forbidden by contract. As a civil servant working in central London I find it ludicrous that I have had to decamp from the office to a public library (Westminster Reference Library) in an effort to find a place to sit and use a laptop to complete detailed work that required concentration. If the civil service really values its commitment to diversity then 'Quiet Carriages' should be an essential part of estate planning; I've no doubt that living in unsuitable accommodation for 'home working' will be more common among those on lower salaries and those from a lower income background.

  12. Comment by Mike posted on

    Once more concentrating on the Top Line highlights and no mention of the expenditure made in securing sites for the New Offices and the building of same etc. So the question remains what is the bottom line? Are there any actual savings or has this all been offset by the expenditure?

  13. Comment by David Sangster posted on

    we need to make our mind up - do we want a great place to work or make savings - trying to spin the current cuts as good just won't cut it. It is one thing to offer flexibility over where we work - quite another to have to work from home because there is no longer sufficient office space - that also means in winter staff paying for heating and light while working at home. Those who have been incorporated into the service from NDPBs have seen the greatest deterioration in conditions - over the past 5 years I have lost a dedicated desk, a free car parking space, the ability for my team to sit together in the office. Further more the quality of the working environment has suffered with 50% of the photocopiers often out of action the lavatories and restaurant facilities declining. This is living within our means not progress. I don't share the SCS vision of the civil service being or becoming brilliant, but I am certain it has been declining not improving.

  14. Comment by Bill posted on

    Can I be the first to congratulate the Civil Service Leaders on the sale of Admiralty Arch and The Old War Office, to be flattened, along with all the other buildings the Civil Service has sold to make houses. Or was that just a useless, no-meaning stat thrown out to help spin the fact that they senior leaders are doing their best to get rid of as much of the Civil Service as possible?