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The commonsense policy quietly making an impact across the country

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

Property is big business and at a time of austerity many councils have looked to potentially valuable assets to generate new income.

As LGC’s analysis this week explains, the One Public Estate programme goes further, taking a strategic approach to all of the public assets in an area to get best value for the taxpayer. The programme has been running since 2013 over which time it has been gradually expanding so that now more than half of councils in England are taking part.

Writing for LGC, head of the Government Property Unit Sherin Aminossehe says success can take many different forms. “By taking a tailored, local approach to projects, OPE partnerships are able to deliver exactly what it is that a local area most needs – be that new housing, more commercial space, efficiency savings, or all of the above,” she says. 

Projects in Plymouth, Bedfordshire, Cornwall and Sutton are all showing promising results. But One Public Estate is still in its infancy in many places meaning it is hard to tell yet if projects have fully achieved their aims, which are often set out over a number of years. If they do not achieve what was intended, the sector should not be afraid of highlighting those projects which do not deliver as it could end up saving other areas planning similar schemes a lot of time, money, and energy. William Nunn (Con), chair of the LGA’s improvement and innovation board, told LGC it was important places “learn from failures as well as successes”.

The programme is a joint initiative between the Local Government Association and the Cabinet Office which addresses one of the major planks of the government’s investment strategy, releasing the value of public sector assets and land.

But while central government, particularly the Department for Communities & Local Government has come in for criticism for failing to release land quickly enough, One Public Estate appears to be a quiet success story. The up-front funding made available by the government has made it easier for local partners to get round the table and work together to exploit estates opportunity in their area.

Of course there is no reason why local partners need to wait for government funding. As LGC’s analysis finds, in some areas the public sector is considering getting on with it regardless having seen the benefits of the approach. Some hope the approach could become a key plank of the devolution agenda in future, as central to areas’ plans as skills and transport.

So far One Public Estate seems to be a rare example of a commonsense policy, sensibly delivered on the ground through proper local empowerment. Can we have more where that came from please?

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