Government Property Agency expands its empire across the UK
7 January 2020: The GPA is working on transforming the civil service by consolidating the government office estate into fewer but better and more efficient workplaces.
The Government Property Agency (GPA) was set up in 2018 as an executive agency of the Cabinet Office to make better use of central government properties and deliver a range of property-related services more efficiently. The GPA is also key to achieving the government’s ambition to locate more of the civil service outside London.
This is not the first attempt to improve the way the government manages its property portfolio, but previous programmes struggled as ownership and control remained with individual departments. This made it difficult to obtain efficiencies of scale by, for example, co-locating offices from different departments. The GPA has tackled this problem by acquiring the ownership of existing properties and leasing them back to individual departments, in addition to taking over the primary leasehold responsibility for privately owned properties.
The GPA describes itself as an asset manager, landlord, workplace service provider and strategic property adviser. Its primary focus is on the government office estate, which at 31 March 2020 comprised 2,712,000 square metres of office space accommodating 303,229 staff at an annual cost of £1.5bn or £558 per square metre.
In addition to its core landlord provision as a property owner or in dealing with building owners, the GPA delivers workplace services including building security, information technology and other activities such as catering, room bookings and mail and package handling, for example. The GPA also supports government departments and local authorities with their property needs by providing property portfolio services (for example, advising on the best use of space), additional property and project services (including supporting relocations and space finding), property consultancy (such as carrying out property data audits or advising on sustainability and net-zero carbon in the built environment) and transformational services (establishing government hubs across the country and consolidating the ‘Whitehall Campus’ in central London). Rates are charged dependent upon the volume of space occupied for landlord services and flat rates or percentage costs for other services.
There are five core teams at the GPA – client solutions, commercial, finance and corporate, workplace services, and capital projects.
The main transformational activity being undertaken by the GPA is the government hubs programme, which seeks to co-locate staff into fewer and better-equipped office buildings. 17 hubs have been or are being established across the UK, with an expectation of eventually reaching 18 to 22 hubs in total. The hubs programme includes the closure of 130 HMRC offices and the move of revenue and customs staff into 13 regional centres based in hub buildings. At least another 40 offices in other government departments are also expected to close as staff are relocated.
The GPA is also working on consolidating and improving the ‘Whitehall Campus’ in central London. This involves moving from a model of separate buildings for each department to a common estate to make better use of space, supporting the move of staff out of central London, and freeing up surplus properties for sale or redevelopment.
The GPA says it has made savings of over £150m on behalf of government departments through lease negotiation and other property contract negotiations.
Government property contributes to a large proportion of carbon emissions and one of the ambitions of the GPA is to develop net-zero plans to provide an example for the UK property industry.
Alison Ring, director for public sector at ICAEW, commented: “Despite its low public profile, the Government Property Agency is driving a major transformation in how the UK Government operates. By consolidating public servants from hundreds of offices across the country into fewer and more efficient regional hubs, it is making a huge change in the way the civil service operates in practice. The hub model should also be better able to respond to changes in working practices, especially if predictions of increased working from home post-pandemic prove to be accurate.
“I know from personal experience how vital it is that public sector employees have great workplaces to work in – it can be demoralising to work in unloved and mouse-occupied buildings! Improving the quality of the work environment is as much the mission of the GPA as is saving money and delivering on sustainability and zero emissions goals.”
Belfast: Erskine House (2020)
Birmingham 1: Arena Central (2021)
Birmingham 2: Platform 21 (2021)
Bristol: Glass Wharf (2019)
Canary Wharf: 10 Colonade Square (2017)
Cardiff: Central Square (2020)
Croydon 1: One Ruskin Square (2017)
Croydon 2: Two Ruskin Square (2024)
Edinburgh: New Waverly (2020)
Glasgow: Atlantic House (2021)
Leeds: Wellington Place (2020)
Liverpool: India Buildings (2019)
Manchester: New Bailey (2022)
Newcastle: Benton Park View (2019)
Nottingham: Unity Square (2021)
Peterborough: Fletton Quays (2021)
Stratford: Westfield Avenue (2021)