MoJ in spotlight as government plans to cull 75% of offices

Topics: Property commercial,Government & politics

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The Ministry of Justice can expect to bear the brunt of plans to radically downsize the central government estate, a report published today suggests.

Publishing the Cabinet Office’s The State of the Estate in 2014-15, paymaster general Matthew Hancock said the government plans to reduce its estate from 800 buildings to fewer than 200 by 2023.


The report shows that the ministry held 18% (1.5 million square metres) of the central estate by April 2015. That cost £527m to run in 2014/15 – almost a fifth of the total operating costs of all central government estate. Only the Department for Work and Pensions (19%) held more. 

Disposals and consolidation have already begun. Since the 2014/15 year end, the MoJ has proposed the closure of one in five courts in England and Wales and developed the idea of shared spaces in government property where staff can work from or attend meetings.

But today’s report shows the scale of the task that remains. 

HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which accounts for two-thirds of MoJ property at over 1 million sq m, managed a space reduction of just 1.8% in the year to 5 April 2015. The next biggest chunk is categorised as non-custodial property controlled by the National Offender Management Service, including probation offices. That fell by 6% to 227,000 sq m.

Prisons are separately categorised as part of the civil estate.

Hancock told the Government Property 2016 conference today that the government estate was ‘under the microscope like never before’

He said: ‘At a time when budgets are being squeezed more than ever, none of us can afford to hide empty rooms behind closed doors.

‘We all need to pitch in to make our estate leaner and smarter, and to make our assets an opportunity, not a burden.’

Today’s report states that the government has saved £842m in the past year by selling empty buildings and exiting expensive rentals. The amount of space used by an ‘average staff member’ in government offices fell from 11.3 sq m in 2013/14 to 10.4 sq m in 2014/15.

A new target of 8 sq m was set at the start of this year. Hancock said the government was confident it could reach this target by March 2018.

A further breakdown of the size of the central estate shows that the net internal area for the MoJ’s headquarters fell from 55,343 sq m in April 2014 to 51,597 sq m. 

The Crown Prosecution Service (which comes under the attorney general’s office) held 92,498 sq m of the central estate in April 2014 compared with 68,105 sq m in April 2015.

’Hubs’ are expected to reduce the government estate from 800 buildings to fewer than 200 by 2023, saving £2bn over 10 years.

As the Gazette reported last month, the MoJ has developed 24 commuter hubs - shared spaces in government property where staff can work from or attend meetings locally - in outer London and the south-east.

The ministry estimated that the scheme will help the department save almost £7m annually in property costs.

Hancock also announced today that the government’s One Public Estate programme will be extended to cover all local authorities in England in the current parliament.

The programme is designed to encourage local councils to work with central government and other public sector organisations to share buildings and re-use or release surplus property and land.

Readers' comments (10)

  • Selling of unwanted real estate and paying down the debt. Good idea. But hold on. This LOOKS like a marvellous idea, except that they will sell the public jewels for about 25% of their real value and then find that they have to lease them back, just as they did with the Inland Revenue's buildings. Funnily enough the sales will all be to offshore mates of the ruling party. There are times when you seriously wonder whether the Government and the Civil Service intend to live in some other nicer country, when ours is a wasteland.

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  • Courts should rent churches which are an underused asset of the church
    Courts used to hold hearings in pubs - there are plenty of them closed too-
    Old people's homes could be built in hospital grounds much of which are wasted - people would be near to hospitals too - better for all
    Ship containers could be used for housing the homeless - services are already available on unused MOD premises no longer used by the armed forces
    Some people need to think outside the boxes don't they?

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  • Use unused churches for courts- there are plenty of them and the church could do with the rent

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  • Maybe the government can charge a spare office levy upon itself?

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  • Here's a novel idea, why not become a commercial landlord and generate a rental income for the nation indefinitely and then, should the need arise, the buildings remain available for use in the future! Alternatively, convert the office space into affordable homes for key workers on either a sale or rental basis. It is more likely that the buildings will be sold off a cut price to some one who will no doubt redevelop and generate significant profit. How galling!

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  • How about selling off the Houses of Parliament and relocating our PMs to the Essex marshes, or next to Thiefrow Airport? No one would then be able to hear a word they say...And just imagine what Trump would pay for the site... We could clear the national debt left behind by New Labour...and clean out the Augean stables...all in one go!

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  • It's not paying down the debt.

    While there is a deficit the debt will rise (in fact with the interest payments the debt may rise even when there's a marginal surplus).

    As long as it's not a sale and leaseback via an offshore tax haven as under Labour (see Eye's passim) and the anti avoidance measure on stamp duty bites (well done GO) the composition and location of the purchaser is a moot point.

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  • Or worse, we could end up being unable to flog some of these old buildings, and then have to spend even more money keeping them in good order in the meantime.

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  • Dennis they are by no means old buildings - many have been built in recent years by Labour when they also built lots of large new police stations etc - you remember when money was being spent like there was no tomorrow
    Many police station, and fire stations are also being abandoned too.
    The state needs to tell us all what it owns in our name and we will tell it what uses can be made for the land

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  • "While there is a deficit, the debt will rise". Correct me if I am wrong, Anon, but that is only the case if there are no sales of assets, isn't it? Unless, of course, the deficit exceeds the amount realised on those asset sales. If the asset sales realise more than the deficit then surely the debt comes down, doesn't it? That's how my repayment mortgage worked anyway. I paid the interest, and some capital, and gradually the debt came down and was eventually paid off.

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