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.