Head of public property John McCready says government is willing to listen to fresh ideas

 ‘The public sector needs our help.’

That was the message at yesterday’s Movers and Shakers Property Networking breakfast, as construction industry professionals gathered at London’s Dorchester Hotel to discuss the gloom surrounding Government finances and the lamentably inefficient use of the public property estate. 

Chairing the debate, Property Week’s Giles Barrie emphasised the opportunities available for the private sector to capitalise as the new coalition strives for efficient governance. Whether by managing departmental buildings or redeveloping underused spaces, industry could be just the tonic that the public estate needs. 

His first question was to John McCready, head of the Government’s Property Unit at the Shareholder Executive: “So, John, what’s the plan?”

Opting for plain-speaking, McCreaedy bluntly replied: “The plan is to cut the deficit.” Depressingly gloomy statistics followed, but McCready was upbeat about innovation in the management of the public estate, particularly as the Government seeks to draw inspiration of its own from the private sector.

McCready was upbeat about innovation in the management of the public estate

After years of apparently stagnant management of the public estate, it was encouraging to hear a policy-maker speak of flexibility. 

Indeed, Sir Stuart Lipton, deputy chairman of Chelsfield and next to speak, criticised government for dismissing new initiatives too quickly in the past. For Lipton, the Government has all too often acted like a pop-up business, constantly producing fresh and fashionable ideas only for them to die days later. With McCready at the Property Unit’s helm, it seems we can hope that some of these ideas will be given the chance to grow.

However, innovation from the private sector will surely lead the way. Lipton’s fellow panellist, Land Securities’ Francis Salway, pointed out that the government needs to achieve ‘greater density of population’ in its buildings. This can only happen with extensive refits of the public estate, refits that should be provided by what Salway sees as a ‘dynamic private sector.’

The panel’s final member, Jon Rouse, Chief Executive at London’s Croydon Borough Council, gave some rather worrying admissions on behalf of local government: Croydon Council under-occupies its buildings; public sites sit derelict rather than being released for sale; few local authorities and government departments actually know what they own.

But Rouse’s assertion that a centralised approach to management of the public estate is a thing of the past reiterated the message of John McCready: the public sector is finally ready to embrace the new in order to cut its costs.

The public sector is finally ready to embrace the new in order to cut its costs

Finally, a meeting of industry experts in the current climate could not have passed without mention of the BSF cancellation. Rouse spelled out the feeling in the room: “The BSF cancellation was the first coalition decision that I questioned. I hope it doesn’t spell the end of capital investment. The coalition should come back with a better investment plan” - an investment plan through which the public and private sectors can work together to provide exciting and efficient buildings for the nation’s children.

With public accounts in a mess and the need for efficiency savings across government, the Movers and Shakers panel gave us just what we needed to hear – the public sector needs private help, what remains to be seen is whether the private sector can provide it.