‘Government is not managing property portfolio efficiently’

THE government’s ‘substantial’ property portfolio is being mismanaged, with some ‘prominent and culturally significant properties’ in the public estate having lain empty for years, says a damning report.

The long-abandoned Queen's House at St Saviour's Hospital. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON (31864875)
The long-abandoned Queen's House at St Saviour's Hospital. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON (31864875)

The Public Accounts Committee report highlighted that while significant buildings lay unused, others ‘with limited financial or social value’ were maintained or repaired annually ‘at huge cost’.

Deputy Inna Gardiner, who chairs the PAC, has called on the government to act ‘without further delay’ over its £1 billion property portfolio, ‘to restore and maintain public trust and confidence in its ability to manage the public estate’.

This includes ‘urgently’ improving governance processes to clarify the roles that different departments and bodies play in property management, as she says there is an ‘absence’ of any widely recognised governance structure or hierarchy.

According to the report, a ‘frustrating factor’ of the review involved receiving ‘incomplete or conflicting evidence’ on who was supposed to be providing leadership and strategic direction in property matters, which the committee said had ‘hampered’ its progress.

Deputy Inna Gardiner. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (31864890)

The panel’s report concluded that the government was ‘not managing its substantial property portfolio in an efficient way to maximise its effectiveness and value for money for the taxpayer’, and recommended that a Corporate Asset Management Plan needed to be published, which would provide a means to implement an estates strategy. This had still not been published, seven months after the government’s publication of its own strategy.

There were ‘significant risks’ to not implementing a joined-up strategy, the committee said, ‘including the risks to health and safety, financial loss, detriment to the environment and also a risk to the reputation of government’.

An example given was that ‘there was no real attempt at co-ordinating the competing needs of the Justice and Home Affairs and Education departments to reach a mutually agreeable decision for the use of the former police station site’. It also referenced Piquet House in the Royal Square and the former La Folie pub near the Harbour. The PAC was evaluating the government’s progress in acting on a recommendation from the Comptroller and Auditor General, made three and half years ago, which said it should develop a public-estate strategy and implement a plan.

The committee’s report was published this week following written submissions from the public, government officers and public hearings with senior officials. The committee found it ‘challenging’ to determine how and when property management decisions were made, and by whom.

The committee also criticised the government over the accessibility of its properties, saying it had found no evidence of plans to ensure that the buildings ‘comply with relevant disability legislation’.

Deputy Gardiner said improving governance processes would ‘ensure that the government is able to make objective evidence-based decisions which provide the public with well-managed, high-quality, accessible buildings’.

She added: ‘Every department should not need to have their own property experts to bid for property: the portfolio should be managed in an equitable and logical way across government. The rationalisation process should be robust and objective, using industry-recognised prioritisation tools and techniques, and should be communicated to all stakeholders.’

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