Dr Janet Young, Government Chief Property Officer for the UK government and a Director General in the Cabinet Office, explains why property is seen as an enabler to kick-start local economic growth
More than ever, property is seen as an enabler to kickstart local economic growth, a key aspect in the delivery of services, and an important part of the drive to make the UK a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gasses by 2050.
The Government Property Function is at the forefront of this agenda. We set the strategy and standards and build capability for the public estate to be managed more efficiently and effectively, working across Government to ensure property is configured in a way which supports the best possible public services, and contributes to key Government priorities. It’s no small task. The UK public estate comprises more than 300,000 properties, with a combined value of more than £500 billion.
The impact of COVID-19
2020 has accelerated the progress of unprecedented change in how people interact with government and public services. COVID-19 has forced everyone in property to view how we manage our estate through a new lens. Ideas for new service models are quickly emerging, focussing on more digital and telephone services. This year has proven what we can do and increased the scale of our ambition.
We’ve seen virtual services provided in areas like justice and the courts, health appointments, and education. As we recover from the pandemic and emerge into a new version of ‘normal’, then we must take the lessons from this past year on board and prioritise the user experience. That means hybrid office and home working, and it means focussing on the importance of smart working, and making sure the public estate of the future is agile, and designed around the needs of the citizen.
Driving economic growth
We’re working to deliver the government priorities of levelling up and building back better and greener, as we support the nation in recovering from the pandemic.
Through programmes such as Places for Growth, plans have been announced by departments to open up new headquarters and campuses in cities across the UK – Cabinet Office in Glasgow, Her Majesty’s Treasury in Darlington, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in Wolverhampton, and the Department for Transport in Birmingham.
This brings jobs and prosperity to these areas but, also, brings the huge benefit of making the civil service more representative of the communities it serves, helping to drive the vital diversity of thought in policymaking by attracting staff from a range of backgrounds.
Building back greener
The Government has been clear: tackling climate change is a top priority. Since 2000, the UK has made more progress than any other G7 country to decarbonise its economy. We have cut our emissions by more than 40% since 1990, and we were the first major economy to pass laws committing to end our net contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Across the public estate, we are working to achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2032, with a goal of net-zero by 2050. In creating this more sustainable public estate, we are working to mitigate climate change and make better use of our resources and natural capital.
We know the public estate has a major role to play in supporting the Government’s 25 Year Environmental Plan, the Greening Government Commitments, and the National Adaptation Strategy. Our role in Government Property is to lead activity and ensure a common approach across Government. To aid this we have developed new standards, created tools to help government organisations manage their carbon emissions, and build the capacity and skills in sustainability.
Many new buildings across the public estate will be built using Modern Methods of Construction, including the School Rebuilding Programme, which includes 50 new schools in its first phase and 500 over the next decade. In health, the NHS has published its plan to deliver a Net-Zero NHS. And the biggest hospital rebuilding programme in a generation, 40 new hospitals by 2030, will be built to Net-Zero standards.
Great places to work
We have a duty to citizens to deliver a well-designed, green, sustainable public estate. Levelling-up means improving the lives of citizens all across the UK, in every nation, region, city and town regardless of location and through the Places for Growth programme, creating jobs and kickstarting economic growth in the regions of the UK outside of London.
The programme involves relocating civil servants from often fragmented office locations to modern, multidepartmental workplaces which will make the most of emerging working practices and technology. Through a programme of refurbishments, improvements, and new-build Government Hubs, we are vastly improving the working environment for thousands of civil servants across the UK, supporting them to deliver better services by providing great places to work.
Our new build sites are located close to public transport connections and local amenities, providing flexible workspace where the lessons from working from home over recent months can be incorporated to make offices a safe and productive environment for civil servants to meet and work. All new developments will minimise the carbon footprint of the materials used in the construction process and will be energy efficient.
Upskilling our workforce
Government Property professionals work across the entire development lifecycle. From strategy, acquisition and new builds to refurbishment, facilities management and disposals. Our people are members of more than 20 professional institutions, including RICS, IWFM, RTPI and RIBA. Making sure these people have the capabilities and skills to deliver on this is at the top of our agenda.
Government property is one of the biggest employers of apprentices in the industry, and we have launched a Property Fast Stream for high potential graduates to join this award-winning civil service graduate scheme. We have also launched a property leadership programme in partnership with Henley Business School. We’re committed, through these programmes and others, to ensuring that Government Property is fully equipped to meet the challenges of the future. This is what makes Government Property such an exciting place to be, and a great place to build a career in property.
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