The estate we are now in – public sector land and buildings

The public sector has collected much land and many buildings over the years. Managing this well can provide better conditions for employees and better results for taxpayers.

I am not one who thinks we should sell off our core estate, or go in for expensive financing through sales and leasebacks. I was critical of Gordon Brown doing some of this. It is cheapest and best to own the freehold of the core estate, and to take direct responsiblity for the maintenance and replacement of the buildings on the core estate. The UK government still has crucial sites with heritage buildings in Central London and elsewhere. Most Councils have good central sites, some with heritage buildings. Lets use them and look after them in the public sector.

In central London the Foreign Office, Downing Street, the Treasury, Parliament, the Scottish and Welsh Offices, the Banqueting Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Conference centre are all important sites and heritage buildings of varying ages. Keeping a strong central estate around the palaces of Westminster and Whitehall makes sense. Beyond the historic core it is good to have some other sites close to the action. The buildings for departments like Education, Business, Culture Media and Sport, Transport and the Home Office do not have the same architectural and historical significance as the heritage buildings. Some of this space may become surplus to overall Whitehall requirements, and some of the properties where the state is freeholder may be suitable for substantial redevelopment. Sub letting to other users in some cases may be a good source of revenue whilst keeping land holdings that could be useful. The further from the core, the better the case for disposal of surplus accommodation.

Beyond central London there are huge MOD holdings. There is some move away from the most valuable areas. In my own constituency the army has moved out from its large Arborfield base so that can be sold for the taxpayers and transformed into private housing. There needs to be suitable forces housing supplied elsewhere. I continue to campaign for a home base approach for all three services where single or family accommodation is provided for service personnel at a constant place where their children can go to school and their loved ones can live or be nearby without constant change.

There is some movement down in total numbers of public service employees, as various services come to rely more on computing power. This over time frees space for disposal or re letting. As a general policy aim those officials who need regular and easy access to Ministers should come to live on the heritage estate near to Parliament. Major centres of public sector employment should be away from highly stressed and expensive parts of the country. As more comes to be done on line so there will be mroe scope to streamline local offices, and to create more one stop shops incorporating more than one government fucntion or department.

The government is going over to a system of centrally managed estates with rental charges to departments for use whether the state is paying rent to a third party or owns the building. This should inject more discipline into property use, and could also lead to a demand for higher standards of services and interior fitment from client departments. This would be good for morale.


  1. Lifelogic
    July 24, 2017

    Well far too many people work for the state anyway, while producing very little of any value for the public. They also hold far too much property to do this from.

    This is nearly always badly managed and produces very little in financial return. Unlike the private sector it is not really taxes either. In the private sector we have inheritance tax, capital gains tax and tax and income. With residential property we now thank to Osborn and Hammond even have tax on income landlords have not even made. Thus hitting tenants further in higher rents.

    Property in the state sector is often located in the wrong place. Usually for the convenience of staff rather than for any efficient function.

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      I remember one government QUANGO moving offices mainly, as far as I could tell, because it was nearer to Victoria station and that was where the big commuter trains happen to terminate. I certainly could see very little other reason for the move to more expensive and rather less convenient (for everyone else that is) offices.

  2. Mark B
    July 24, 2017

    Good morning.

    Good topic.

    Indeed the State can and should make better use of its estates.

    I am not one for selling all the Family Silver but where land is just left then it is a good idea either to return it to agriculture or development.

    Other areas where the government can raise funds is selling the Prisons like HMP’s Wandsworth and Brixton to private developers. The land could be used for housing and new prisons built further out on cheaper or currently owned government / MoD land.

    It is also good that government departments will have to take a more business like mentality to their working space. The more commercial minded our State employees become the better they will come to understand just how fortunate they are.

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      Indeed prisons certainly should not be on Central London prime land.

      HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs could perhaps be redeveloped to help with the shortage of housing near the Notting Hill area.

      A new prison to replace all these London ones on some agricultural fields in say Norfolk or Suffolk would be very sensible and far cheaper. Staff would be far cheaper and more available there too. Perhaps in a new building they might even be able to stop phones, drugs and the likes getting in.

  3. Iain Gill
    July 24, 2017

    Forces personal already get preferential treatment in schools, many get public school fees paid, and in the state sector their children jump the waiting list queue as the only group explicitly mentioned in the rules with such privilege.

    I see no reason they should get better treatment than the children of private sector workers moving area regularly for work.

    Fix the rationing rules, and pay them decent money, don’t bake more unfair rules into the system.

    1. Ian Wragg
      July 24, 2017

      The biggest group with preferential treatment of schools is immigrants.
      They rock up at the school gates on a Monday morning and are immediately enrolled. Meanwhile UK kids are sent miles away.
      No wonder there’s resentment.

    2. formula57
      July 24, 2017

      @ Iain Gill – The “…reason they should get better treatment than the children of private sector workers moving area regularly for work” is because their parent is required to move by the State for its good with consequent disruption to the children’s education and therefore some mitigation through preference in local waiting list queues is not unreasonable.

      1. Lifelogic
        July 24, 2017

        Lots of people in the private sector, who after all pay for all the largese of the state sector, have to move about too. For them often their moving costs are out of taxed income too. Their company often unable even to cover their moving cost or stamp duty without them all being taxed on it.

      2. Iain Gill
        July 24, 2017

        It is unreasonable. Plenty of kids of private sector workers need to move regularly for work, and if they didn’t the country would soon grind to a halt. The way their children are treated as sub citizens always at the back of the queue and always getting the worst school in town is truely scandalous. The kids of forces getting the reverse treatment just rubs salt in the wound. As ever the state tries to fix one mess up with another mess up. The forces are already getting better terms and conditions than private sector workers doing equally dangerous jobs.

    3. Martyn G
      July 24, 2017

      Children of Service parents get preferential treatment in being able to join a State school for very good reasons. On average, a Service child will have attended 3 Primary schools and fallen behind on average around 6 months in educational terms – not least because the English, Welsh and NI education systems are all different! The move of, say, a Regiment elsewhere impacts heavily on the State schools they both leave (much reduced number of children – loss of funds and staff) and start at (sudden surge in numbers, staff and other resources needed) but, in general, individual Service parent moves have a relatively small impact on schools.
      There are exceptions to this, for example the State Primary school of which I am a governor is almost unique in being a State school located within the guarded perimeter of a RAF station. It was placed there to serve the needs of the Service community but is, of course, also open to civilian parents. The movement of Service families results in the school annual ‘mobility factor’ being around 50% – that is, half of the number on roll will leave or enter the school each school year. Remember also, that the need to move their child(ren) between schools is outwith parental control and can happen at any point during the school year. It is fair, therefore, for these children to be able to join a UK State school ‘out of phase’ at any point in the school year. If civilian children cannot do so it is the fault of the educational system which thus needs fixing.

      1. Iain Gill
        July 25, 2017

        You clearly don’t know many private sector workers who move regularly for work, nothing you have said excuses their children permanently getting the worst school in town.

    4. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      The government largely governs for the overpaid state sector and largely ignores the 80% who work, far more productively, in the private sector who pay for it all.
      Politicians spend lots of time talking to the state sector a little to large business and almost never to small business.

      The state sector is, with pensions included, about 40% better remunerated too. Plus they often get perks such as housing for key workers (or the ones you mention above for the armed forces). The forces used to get expensive private school fees paid too and all tax free I understand.

      I cannot do that for my employees!

      They also work fewer hours, take more sick pay (by miles), retire earlier and have better working conditions and social hours on average.

      1. Lifelogic
        July 24, 2017

        If they did talk to small business a bit more they might stop nobbling them with insanities like work place pensions, absurd tax systems, bonkers employment laws, gender pay reporting and the likes.

        What employer would overlook a good worker just for reasons of gender anyway? They would be damaging themselves.

      2. Iain Gill
        July 24, 2017

        Many still get public school fees paid, rationed by their superior officers in the most discrimitory way. Others get to jump straight to the top of state school waiting lists, true animal farm in action.

  4. David Cockburn
    July 24, 2017

    All excellent ideas JR. The only difficult I can see is that we get places like Swansea and Newcastle becoming one industry government bureaucracy towns where private industry cannot compete with, relatively, highly paid civil servants paid on national scales.

  5. The PrangWizard
    July 24, 2017

    I worked for a large organisation which had a large freehold and a smaller leasehold estate. It was not a property investment or development business. It went over to the new estate management approach as described in Mr Redwood`s final paragraph around 30 years ago. Nice to read that the government is seemingly catching up.

    Outside professionals will need to be brought in and it will need forcing through against those resentful of change, since those administering the present system will find the new way of thinking very difficult and their pride will be hurt if they find professionals doing what the have done for years.

  6. Peter
    July 24, 2017

    We don’t want all our land sold off to foreigners.

    Look at London. Vast swathes owned by Qatar and other foreign interests.

  7. Christine
    July 24, 2017

    “Major centres of public sector employment should be away from highly stressed and expensive parts of the country.”

    Why is it then that where I live we have seen Government buildings, which offered some of the cheapest accommodation in the country, sold off, demolished and replaced with unwanted houses? In one case, a site, which once employed thousands of local people, has been left as a desolate wasteland. The jobs have been moved to Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. Hardly cheap locations compared to where they were. This Power House of The North idea has given jobs to the cities at the expense of the northern towns. We see Government investment concentrated only on the bottom half of England. The North of England has been left to wither and die. In recent months we have seen the likes of GSK, AXA plus the civil service all announce closures in the north as the lure of better infrastructure pull them in a southerly direction. It’s an utter disgrace and needs investigating.

  8. MPC
    July 24, 2017

    The ‘One Public Estate’ initiative, funded through the Cabinet Office and delivered via the Local Government Association, addresses your call for efficiency and rationalisation.

  9. Bert Young
    July 24, 2017

    One should always plan for and get the best return possible for ones’ assets . Empty spaces , buildings , under-utilised organisations should all come under the microscope ; the Government sits on huge resources that could be of more benefit to the taxpayer . Such a revue and plan of action ought to be under public scrutiny and control ; there is no existing government department in existence or capable of such a job . At one time there was an Audit function that did try to focus on such things ; it always failed due to some over-riding person -or authority , getting involved . Maybe things can change .

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      Indeed sweat you assets as best you can. But to the state sector their “assets” are the 80% in the private sector they parasitically feed off.

  10. Chris S
    July 24, 2017

    This is all very sensible and public sector employees should be moved away from central London wherever possible. However, that is only really effective if salaries are no longer set nationally. It is plainly ridiculous for a public sector employee in Mid-Wales to be paid the same as someone in the home counties doing the same job.

    It also distorts and damages the private sector as local firms cannot compete. This problem certainly extends to teaching where a teacher with ten years experience or the head of a tiny primary school will be the highest paid worker in the area ( with the exception of their GP ).

  11. alan jutson
    July 24, 2017

    Agree we need to make best commercial use of Government Buildings that are sensible to rent out, or if totally unsuitable, sold off.

    Important to remember that our armed services sites should always have a clause written into them that they can be returned to active duty in time of National emergency.

    Never understood why the Greenham Common runway was dug up, when it was one of the longest runways in the Country.

    Never know when it may be needed again, and could of in the meantime been used as a service road or car/lorry park for the industrial estate much of the site has now become.

  12. stred
    July 24, 2017

    The government holds the cards when it comes to value of land because of planning permission. Labour sold most nuclear station sites to EDF and RBS lent them the money to buy. Now, they seem to think that EDF has the right to build their expensive designs, that have been a financial disaster elsewhere, on these sites. But it would be possible to give planning permission for a nuke site adjecent to the ageing stations and invite tenders from 3 competitors.

  13. Epikouros
    July 24, 2017

    Civil servants, bureaucrats and politicians running a kindergarten bun fight fills me with trepidation. Government and the public sector is hardly the repository of those best suited to to make commercial decisions as it’s track record of mismanagement, inefficiencies and waste makes abundantly clear. Where over budget and time over runs and sometimes complete failure is the the norm not the exception.

    However any suggestions that tackles the culture of them thinking what is in their best interests rather than what is in the public’s and forcing them to act with some sense of urgency must be welcome . Ideally letting them have less to do like staffing quangos and legislative duties and fewer toys to play with like the NHS and Network Rail would be best.

  14. English Pensioner
    July 24, 2017

    I’ve never understood the advantage to the state in sale and lease back. I can see its logic to companies where is can be the best way of raising capital, but the state doesn’t have that problem. All home owners know that owning your home is better than renting over one’s lifetime unless one is constantly on the move. Government renting should only be a short term solution should space be needed in a hurry to deal with some unexpected event.

    Somewhat related to this matter is the question of whether it will be possible to reduce government jobs and release any buildings following Brexit. Somehow I suspect the Civil Service will find that all the jobs are still required, maybe in a slightly different form!

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      They will of course, demand even more people and even larger offices so they can file their nails, inconvenience the productive, clad building in flammable insulation, cover up NHS scandals, the Hillsbrough and the blood transfusion scandals and the likes. This while generally pushing paper or emails about – to no productive or useful effect.

  15. Derek Henry
    July 24, 2017

    Why bother ?

    The monopoly issuer of £’s does not need to raise funds it is not a household budget.

    It creates funds from thin air by crediting bank accounts and using a computer keyboard. We no longer use the gold standard.

    Of course you know this John so why be so deceitful ?? It is very unbecomming of you.

    If you have to lie on a public forum what’s the point ?

  16. stred
    July 24, 2017

    It appears that Greg Clarke, the ex-Libdem energy and business minister, has said we are going to have giant batteries near windfarms and household solar stored by smaller ones. he says this is to keep costs down, as solar and wind account for 14% of electricity. taking the annual figure for the UK of wind, and a period of storage of 24 hours, The advice from someone in the know is that these batteries of the Tesla type will cost £14bn. Will this be added to the bill? They may be guaranteed for 10 years.

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      Clarke clearly is a dope with no understanding of the economics of electrical power systems nor of engineering & physics.

      A battery might cost £3 per watt hour stored. So a £3,000 battery stores only 3KWhours or circa 15p of electricity at cost. The cost of the battery is thus about 20,000 times the value of what it can store. Furthermore the battery does not last very long and much of the energy (perhaps 25% even) is wasted in the process of charging and discharging.

      Do the sums you greencrap plonker and stop pushing drivel.

      The best ways to store electricty are as gas, hydro or coal and generate it as needed. Or if you must by pumping water up a hill then letting it down again. Please grow up man and learn some basic physics and sums.

  17. Simon Platt
    July 24, 2017

    “A home base approach for all three services where single or family accommodation is provided for service personnel at a constant place where their children can go to school and their loved ones can live or be nearby without constant change” sounds great. Surely it can’t be helped by closing barracks left right and centre.

  18. rk
    July 24, 2017

    DFID has very little parliamentary business.
    They should move the vast majority of whitehall staff to work near an airport.

  19. ian
    July 24, 2017

    Oh i forgot, the climate change idea that investment bankers and big companies came up with, so they could export people jobs in the uk & elsewhere to Asia to bring down the price of there goods to earn more money, and to sell to more people, and be able to leave their money offshore without having to pay tax on it, while impoverishing your own people in debt. which is more money for bankers, while giving your own people poor paying jobs running big businesses goods a round in backs of van who are now locked out the housing market, and fined themselves unable to loan any more money, and have to uses food banks even when they have a job, because most of their money goes to service their debts.

    Now you have come up with the war on cash, so everything has to go through the banks so they can charge people more fees to get access to their own money later on,and to bail in the people money to their own banks to bail themselves out by making people buy their shares, in other words stealing their money so they can carry on as if nothing has happened. Then you have small people who work for themselves doing cash in hand jobs for people at their homes with agr jobs, with leaflet deliveries, and so on. You are intent on taking away all of the small people freedoms, and leaving them to rot, so that bankers and their friends can sit around doing nothing apart from playing around with few birds, and playing golf, while the people money flows into their offshore bank accounts not taxed, without having to lift a finger for it. They are now all kings and queens by the virtue of their position of life, which has enable them to corrupt the people that people vote for in governments & parliament around the world for own benefit and no one else, while you sitting around with other MPs giving them all the help you can.

    1. Lifelogic
      July 24, 2017

      Why, when I deposit £1ooK with a bank do they pay me perhaps just 0.25%(unsecured) and yet when I want to borrow the same from them a month later they ask for perhaps base plus 4%, take an age to approve it and they want solid security too? Not much sign of any real competition in UK banking.

      Borrow at .25% and lend at 4.25% or 17 times the going rate. Yet I am a far better risk than most of the banks, this even unsecured.

      1. hefner
        July 26, 2017

        Are you the new Bill Murray? I thought Groundhog Day was in February.

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