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30 July, 2018 - 14:07

Digital National Asset Register will transform the Government’s One Public Estate Programme

Conservative estimates suggest that the public sector owns more than one third of all developable sites in the UK, most of which are in towns and cities that are crying out for modernisation and change, writes Will Rooke, Partner, Carter Jonas.

On 18 July 2018, the Cabinet Office published its Government Estate Strategy which outlined detailed plans for a Digital National Asset Register (DNAR).

This is integral for the advancement of the One Public Estate (OPE) programme, which aims to make the Government’s property portfolio more efficient.

Achieving success for large scale estate rationalisation is incredibly complex, but there is already a good example in the newly formed West Suffolk District Council in Bury St Edmunds.

Here, St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council moved into a shared office and acquired the neighbouring industrial building to redevelop it into a wider scheme that includes NHS, police and courts services on the same site.

However, the DNAR will have a huge impact on driving success stories like West Suffolk District Council by combining property and land information with socioeconomic data across a wide variety of public sector bodies to support strategic asset management, collaboration and environmental performance amongst other things.

The complex and diverse nature of local authority services can often represent a significant hurdle to the transformation of the operational estate.

Successful transformation of any operational property portfolio only occurs when either the property team properly understands the business operation, or the business operation fully understands property. 
In a reactive local authority scenario, it can often fall to the operational service teams to understand property dynamics, which can cause difficulties and frustrations in the change implementation process.

A ‘Corporate Landlord’ (centralised management model), seeks to minimise these stresses, but requires the property team to have a complete understanding of the service perspective.

The difficulty is that the amount of time required to develop a sound understanding of a complex array of local authority services can be considerable.

For example, any typical surveyor’s natural area of focus will be on his or her pipeline of day-to-day property tasks, leaving the development of an understanding of legislation that drives the services’ property needs feeling like a tall order.

The reciprocal is also true for service leaders seeking to understand the intricacies of property markets and property law.

One of the greatest opportunities for driving efficiency from the operational estate can be found in the co-location of services. Consolidating services into less property can offer a meaningful and sustainable reduction in the size of the council portfolio, release land and buildings for housing and employment growth, as well as delivering capital and revenue potential on a sizable scale.

The Local Government Association shared services agenda promotes the ideal of sharing services between public partner organisations; sharing property is an inherent part of that model.

However, the real test is in considering all site-sharing opportunities from the wider public sector base and not restricting proposals to only the local authority service need.

Co-location options identification should also embrace the service need and operational strategy of other partner organisations including, for example: NHS; blue light; district; town and parish authorities.

Forming a detailed understanding of the service needs and property supply for all organisations is a monumental task, but fully achievable through a structured approach and the application of dedicated resources.

The process of data collation must be undertaken as a holistic exercise to discover the full scope of opportunities across all public sector partners. This requires determination and a high level of strategic direction and programme management to be successful. 

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