By David Bentley, Head of Asset Management CIPFA
Public authorities often own a wide variety of land and buildings. These include everything from the obvious, such as office facilities, schools and social service accommodation, through to the more unusual: like museums, public toilets and heritage landmarks.
Property is one of an authority’s major resources, and buildings can have a significantly positive or, detrimental effect on both the delivery and resources available for other services.
So how can an authority best manage the property assets they hold?
1. Know what you own (and how it performs)
Information about your property is a necessity, not an optional extra. It should provide a firm foundation to building any asset management strategy.
2. Know where you are going
Set a clear strategy for your property. Choices about your property assets happen constantly and there will always be winners and losers from the decisions made. Ensuring buy in at all levels of your organisation is crucial in mitigating risks while maximising your chances of success.
A public sector organisation provides many different services, and may have many different tiers of hierarchy.
Any approach to asset management must engage with, and take into account, the different tiers. It is important to have a structure in place that stretches right from the top to the bottom, with no weak links. Such an inclusive corporate structure is one of the most difficult aspects of asset management.
In the current climate authorities' resources are stretched and many don’t have the money to cover all the things they need to. But resources can be prioritised through better management and rationalisation of the estate. A more strategic approach to property maintenance and more targeted maintenance expenditure will help achieve savings.
5. Customer Experience/Suitability
The use of suitability assessments provide a more subjective user view of property, allowing both property and service managers to supplement more technical measures and ascertain the most effective buildings for delivering services.
Benchmarking is remerging as a key analytical tool for authorities. It is essential that organisations use benchmarking to understand how they perform against key criteria, as well as in comparison to other similar organisations.
7. Review and Challenge
A good programme of asset reviews it vital to authorities. It needs a mix of approaches to ensure that the entire portfolio is challenged over a one to four year period, dependent on the size of authority and resources available.
8. Working with Others
Successful collaboration has the potential to reduce costs, improve service delivery, and make assets more accessible to the citizens.
9. Improved Office Accommodation and Modern Ways of Working
Few public organisations understand the opportunities from redesigning office space to support modern methods of working, or the opportunities and efficiencies present in the enhanced use of mobile technology. Doing so can enable staff to work in different and more effective ways and produce significant savings.
10. Commercial Property
Approaches for managing commercial property are mixed. Some organisations set targets and challenge performance, while others have little knowledge of, or rationale to, how this area of their estate performs. Gaining a better grasp of best practice for management of commercial property can boost revenue and reduce costs.
Public authorities have come a long way in improving the planning, strategy and management of their property portfolios, but there is still a long way to go. Most would benefit from more time and resources to develop a more structured corporate approach to property management.
In a world of changing targets, property management is often under resourced, and has many different and conflicting priorities. To succeed in this environment the property asset manager constantly has to adapt and adjust to competing and sometime contradictory priorities. However a more structured and thorough approach to property can reap rewards and mitigate against the risks all authorities face from their property portfolio.