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Government Estate (Modernisation)

Volume 614: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2016

Working collaboratively with Departments and local government, we are delivering a public sector estate that is cost-effective, supports the delivery of better-integrated public services, and exploits surplus land and property to help build homes and create jobs. In so doing, since 2010 we have raised £1.8 billion in capital receipts and reduced running costs by £750 million.

I welcome the Minister to his place and congratulate him on his well-deserved promotion. Does he agree that at a time when the country needs to build more housing on brownfield sites, it is essential that the Government lead the way in this? Have the Government done any audit that has ascertained the amount of land available and the number of houses and flats that could be built on it?

We have done some partial work, as my hon. Friend suggests. It is in the nature of the work that we are doing that there is not sufficiently good-quality understanding of public sector land, and that is why we are seeking to make it better. Despite that, we delivered 100,000 homes on public sector land in the previous Parliament, and we aspire to build 150,000 in this one. I shall provide him with further details as and when we discover them.

I welcome the Minister to his post. He will know that in 2010 a report said that the changes to the civil service—the regionalisation of the civil service—would require political leadership. We have seen a reduction in the size of the estate in London but an increase in the number of top officials and civil servants in London. Under his tenure, will we finally see that political leadership and the regions actually having a voice?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. In my previous ministerial post, it was a great pleasure for me to work with civil servants, especially in Yorkshire, including senior civil servants working there. I saw myself how it is possible to have senior civil servants around the country. I completely agree that the more we can get senior positions of all kinds around the country, the better we will be able to serve the people whom we were elected to serve.

The speed with which the new Brexit Department has been established from scratch since 24 June has been truly impressive. Is not the key to a modern Government who can respond to modern needs to have as much flexible, open-plan office space as possible?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The way in which we have been able to set up the new Department and the other Departments of State so rapidly is a tribute to the work done by my predecessors as Ministers at the Cabinet Office in reforms to the civil service and to the Government Property Unit. He will have heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of State for Exiting the European Union about the very significant support that he has received, in number and in quality, from the civil service so far.