Get to know Duncan Blackie - Talent Bank Associate
I’m a chartered surveyor, and I have worked [since 2008] as a management consultant with public sector clients.
My background and how I became a Talent Bank Associate
In the 1990’s and early noughties, I worked in senior local government property roles, e.g. Head of Property at LB Barking & Dagenham and Head of Property Strategy at Kent County Council. In 2005 I joined the public sector team at King Sturge [acquired by JLL in 2011] and then went into consultancy in 2008, initially working with Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, Insight [a specialist asset management service provided by KCC] and Local Partnerships. I joined the East of England LGA Talent Bank in circa 2011 as part of the asset management team, and I have undertaken a wide range of assignments for the Talent Bank since then. I have also undertaken projects as an interim Assistant Director of Property/ Head of Estates [in county and unitary settings].
Before joining public service, I gained experience in a variety of sectors including; banking, property development, commercial estate agency and valuations of residential & commercial property and going concern businesses. This experience has enabled me to take a broad view of business and is underpinned by an MBA and [more recently] a post-graduate certificate in coaching.
Property & construction covers a wide range of disciplines and, as an experienced general practice surveyor, I have an overview of the industry.
All organisations have property interests, which they own or rent and property is generally the second highest overhead [after staff]. Staff numbers have been reduced to make savings and property portfolios within local government are extremely diverse, including a wide range of operational assets, commercial assets [such as retail parades], housing and assets used by community groups, such as CAB and children’s nursery provision. The sheer diversity of local government portfolios is pretty unique. For example, the property portfolio of a major high street retailer may only comprise three classes of asset:- retail units, warehousing & head office.
Local government portfolios often include a wide range of legacy assets, initially acquired for operational or economic regeneration reasons, now used for a different purpose which may or may not align with corporate objectives. The more diverse the portfolio, the more significant the impact that a changing business environment will have. Therefore, the need to adapt assets to meet new legislative requirements, such as provision for disability or to meet new energy/sustainability standards, has significant capital and revenue implications. Risks, such as legionella, which are associated with non-compliance are much more challenging to contain across diverse portfolios which are subject to budget constraints.
In summary, local government:
- has a significant number of operational assets, resulting in capital and revenue which could be redeployed to meet current priorities
- is running unnecessary risks with statutory non-compliance. Which creates a poor perception by continuing to hold assets that are under-utilised and in poor condition
- holds a wide range of income-producing assets, which have not been subject to a commercial review and may not, therefore, be providing an acceptable return [financial/social]
- has a legacy estate of subsidised assets used by community groups, partners and third sector organisations who may longer be contributing to corporate objectives [where the bullet points above also apply]
How Covid is impacting my industry
In short, the impact is enormous, varied and [as yet] unclear. Property managers have rightly been attending to short term issues, such as risk mitigation, but local authorities are beginning to think about bigger/longer-term issues such as the future of town centres, including public realm, and whether they need to make acquisitions and disposals to ‘right size’ their property portfolios [operational, community and income producing].
Issues include; changing retail needs/patterns, new logistical requirements to support on-line purchases, implications of remote working and repurposing/providing office space, incorporating open space into new developments, changing patterns of property use around transport hubs, to reflect new commuting habits, to name only a few.
However, it is clear that there will be significant implications for local authorities, as property owners and community leaders.
How I can bring positive change about
- Short sharp Asset Management Health checks – designed to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
- Reviewing operational property requirements, including office space, and leading workshops to agree on future options
- Drafting Asset Management plans and investment strategies
- Identifying under-used property/land which can be repurposed or brought forward for alternative use, including disposal and joint venture
- Reviewing income-producing assets; identifying opportunities to avoid risk, add value, dispose of underperforming assets and to acquire assets that better fit strategic requirements
- Reviewing staffing structures of property teams, including identifying gaps in skills and capacity
- Undertaking soft market testing and procuring additional resources via frameworks and ODJEU compliant exercises
- Co-ordinating and managing the implementation of projects and programmes which deliver tangible benefits
Several examples of my way of working are illustrated by the case studies to be found at https://www.dcbproperty.co.uk/case-studies/