Councils reap the rewards from their assets
Councils reap the rewards from their assets

Councils in the East of England have taken major steps to review their asset management arrangements – and are reaping the rewards. Andrew Rowson, asset management lead at the East of England LGA, talks through the benefits of a number of ground breaking initiatives.

Councils own or use a vast portfolio of property and land.They need these facilities to provide services - schools, libraries, social care, day centres, parks and housing. But they are also duty bound to use these spaces efficiently –without wasting money unnecessarily – which is essential because councils incur high costs just through occupying buildings.

In fact, in 2012/13, English councils spent an estimated £5.6 billion – about 4% of all revenue spending in that year - on premises-related expenditure, according to the Audit Commission’s “Managing council property assets” briefing paper, June 2014.

So how can councils get the best return from their assets? We believe the key is collaboration.

Thanks to a comprehensive review, the East of England LGA has been instrumental in streamlining how certain councils use their assets – with huge success.

Leading the way are Essex and Cambridgeshire Councils which have improved the way they work as well as the systems they have in place.

With the help of the East of England LGA, Essex County Council and other partners have been working under the ‘East 17’ umbrella - an initiative which promotes collaborative working initiatives between the 17 local authorities in Essex.

One of these is the Essex Property Asset Map (EPAM), a low cost, cloud based online mapping solution which has been designed by public sector partners and includes all local authority, police, fire, health and central government civil estate data.

This allows all public sector partners to view and share each other’s information, together with basic asset attributes such as use and tenure. The map is also used to identify potential collaborative opportunities.

The East of England LGA has also provided support to Essex County Council’s successful bid to be a One Public Estate pilot council, undertaking a series of area locality reviews; collecting data on local authority assets and analysing what opportunities were present to make better use of sites.
 An area locality review was conducted in Epping Forest using the EPAM system and comprised six steps; a desktop review, fieldwork, analysis, workshop, actions and reporting, which took less than three weeks.

Around 150 sites were inspected and analysed and as a result, some 20 opportunities were identified as having good potential either to be sites for new housing or for improved use.

In Cambridgeshire work has also been underway. Public sector organisations across the county have been participating in an innovative  programme called Making Assets Count (MAC).

This programme brings the organisations together in partnership with the key objectives of reducing the cost of property occupation and using their combined property portfolio more effectively.

In St Ives, a particularly effective initiative saw Cambridgeshire County Council's Adult Day Service relocate from their small, privately-leased premises into the town's Police Station, a building of which only around one-third was being used by the Police.
 As a result of sharing the building and reducing their costs, the Adult Day Care Service is now able to provide more services to the community and the overall MAC programme is expected to generate revenue savings of around 20% as well as better services for the people of Cambridgeshire.

These are just some examples of the progress being made by councils and the wider public sector across the region and the East of England LGA is keen to share the learning as widely as possible -– not just because collaborative working improves efficiency, but also because it can potentially generate impressive savings too.