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The future of One Public Estate is unclear

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Three years in and the future of the One Public Estate programme is unclear.

While there is £31m funding committed to the One Public Estate programme up until 2018 it is not known what will happen beyond then, especially after an autumn statement which indicated the age of austerity is nowhere near ending.

Adrian Piper, head of property services at Bedford BC, told LGC the £500,000 funding the Bedford and Central Bedfordshire partnership had received had been key to getting projects off the ground.

“We always struggled getting resources allocated to do the projects,” he told LGC. “We were relying on partners to put resources in so we made slow but steady progress.

“We would not have been able to do anything on the scale of what we are doing without the One Public Estate funding so it has been very helpful.”

Nationally the One Public Estate programme is set to deliver £56m savings, £138m capital receipts, 36,000 jobs, and 16,500 homes by 2020.

Mark Barrow, partner at Arcadis and One Public Estate programme director for the West Midlands Combined Authority, said those projections had given people confidence.

The scaling up of responsibilities for stategic asset management has the potential to move decisions about assets further away from communities

The former chief executive of Newcastle-under-Lyme BC who also works with other areas on the One Public Estate programme said some places were now realising they did not need to wait for funding from the programme and were considering self-financing projects or accessing funding from local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities instead. 

William Nunn (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s improvement and innovation board, hoped the government would continue funding the programme but added he was “realistic”.

He said he would continue putting pressure on the government to let councils use capital receipts more flexibly instead of only being able to spend the money on other capital projects. 

Some figures involved in the programme believe there is an opportunity for it to become more widely incorporated into the devolution agenda.

So far only Cornwall’s and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s devolution deals contain specific mentions of the One Public Estate programme in their agreements.

However, Abby Gilbert, researcher at the New Local Government Network, said the creation of combined authorities and strategic asset management boards had the “potential to conflict” with areas transferring community assets to local groups and organisations. 

Ms Gilbert told LGC: “As much as the rhetoric around devolution is about handing power down to local areas, the scaling up of responsibilities for strategic asset management has the potential to move decisions about assets further away from communities. For this reason, transparency and community engagement is important for this scheme to achieve its full potential.”

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