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Government Estate (Savings)

Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

1. What savings to the public purse have resulted from changes to the Government estate in the last two years. (110349)

The moratorium on new leases and on passing over breaks in existing leases has helped us across central Government to save the taxpayer some £278 million from property in just the first 10 months of the coalition Government’s time in office. To date, central Government have got out of more than 900 leases and released freeholds, and last year alone the size of the estate fell by 6%.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government will get value for taxpayers’ money by ensuring that, wherever possible, the publicly owned freehold estate is used to avoid the need for expensive leases?

That is exactly our approach. Far too much of the freehold estate is under-occupied and far too many expensive leasehold properties are occupied in a very inefficient way. In Bristol alone we discovered that central Government, in their different forms, occupied 115 separate addresses, which is very inefficient and not at all conducive to joined-up government.

As you know, Mr Speaker, we should always watch what Ministers do, rather than simply listening to what they say. The problem with this Minister is that he promised millions of pounds of savings from other Departments while sneakily building up his own empire. In truth, his Department’s agencies had 23,000 square metres of office space when he came to office, but that figure has more than doubled to a staggering 56,000 square metres. Squeezing others while fattening up his own Department is hardly a policy that will incentivise colleagues to reduce their estate. When will he deliver the savings, and not just mythical ones?

The hon. Gentleman ought to look a little more carefully at the facts. He will see that the National School of Government and the Central Office of Information, which had been part of quangoland under the previous Government, have been brought in-house and so have been closed down.

May I satisfy the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman and give the Minister for the Cabinet Office good news by suggesting that even more money could be saved by relocating out of London and coming to Wellingborough?

I am confident that, under my hon. Friend’s benign guidance, Wellingborough is an incredibly good place for people to work. The size of the civil service is falling to its smallest since the second world war and we are reducing the number of people who need to be in central London, but if the opportunity to relocate people out of London arises, I am sure that Wellingborough will have a very good case to make.

When it comes to making savings for the public purse, a constituent of mine has written to me: she works for the civil service and is travelling two to three times a week from Nottinghamshire to London to attend meetings that last about an hour. Is that not a ridiculous waste of money, and what are Ministers doing about it?

Yes, indeed. I recommend that the Department for which the hon. Lady’s constituent works investigate the use of the telephone, which has been around for quite some time.