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Unit 'needs more clout' to speed surplus land release

Tue 4th September 2012, 3:05 pm

The Government Property Unitís plans to create a centralised property department within Whitehall was scuppered partly through resistance from the Treasury, according to a new investigation.

Margaret Hodge: Chairwoman of public accounts select committee

The Public Accounts Select Committee report said that the plans, aimed at helping speed the release of surplus public sector land, were abandoned in 2011.

It said that this was partly due to sensitivities over autonomy from property professionals in individual departments, but added: “We were surprised to hear that the Treasury was not more proactive in trying to help the unit tackle the problem of financial incentives in order to support delivery of savings at a time of spending pressure.

“We were told that the Treasury's view remains that departments will find a way to share these costs within existing budgets, should the savings case be compelling.”

The report also found that departments owning freehold buildings were reluctant to move because they have no budget to pay rent on leasehold properties.

It found that the unit would need greater clout to mandate actions across Whitehall if it was to make the government’s use of office space as efficient as it could be.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the committee, said: "Central government offices cost the taxpayer around £1.8 billion a year to run. Progress has been made in recent years to drive costs down, but a more ambitious approach could deliver much bigger savings: more than £800 million a year by 2020.

“Much will depend on the management of the estate being much more tightly controlled from the centre rather than leaving individual departments to their own devices.”

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