Nurturing Your Money Tree

About this article
Marie Leaphard


Marie Leaphard


Capability , Future Thinking
Market Insights

Sign Up for Market Trends & Insights


Reflections from Government Property 2024

The public sector can use its built assets to build connectivity, regenerate place, and drive economic growth. Last month, Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced a consultation about the option for local authorities to use asset sales to cover budget shortfalls. – But how much do authorities know about their built assets to make the right decisions? And, is there more data they can harness to help assets flourish before disposal becomes the only option?

These are some of the questions we explored recently at Government Property Conference 2024. In our plenary session, we returned to the asset money tree ‘planted’ at Conference in 2023 to see how we can nurture for growth. In our session, I along with Tom Lee, one of our future professionals, Michelle Zompi, our Head of RLB Digital, and Nathan Monks, an Estate Optimisation lead at RLB, navigated a series of interactive questions with the audience to gauge feedback on how the sector feels about its assets and the public estate.

The power of knowing: What data would help you make more informed decisions? 

Last year, 67% of our survey respondents said that they know what data they’ve got but don’t have the time to keep it updated.

This year we asked the audience on the day what data they felt would help them make more informed decisions:

  • Utilisation data such as energy usage and costs
  • Building usage data like occupancy including future occupancy
  • Carbon efficiency data
  • Data that was usable, consistent, accurate, automated, and fit for purpose.

RLB’s Head of Digital, Michelle and Lead on Estate Optimisation, Nathan fed back their thoughts on this:

We know that the digitalisation of our estates will generate data that will ultimately allow key stakeholders to make informed decisions. The governance and guidance coming from government backs up the tenet that data = knowledge = ability to navigate our estates.  The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill talks about “full digitalisation of the system…making the planning processes faster and more efficient”, the Government Property Strategy mission 3 states that “improvements to data will include a comprehensive oversight of all government property” and the Building Safety Act Golden Thread clearly says that “your building’s information must be…kept digitally…a building’s single source of the truth.”

Yet, what is clear is that the data needs to be good data, with a focus on harnessing the right data too. It isn’t the acknowledgement within the industry that we need data to drive efficiencies, but how we deliver that data for many estates, like Central Government who manage the largest portfolio of property in the UK.  In answering our question about what sort of data, our audience’s reaction was varied, but a few answers stood out, especially those around capturing ‘utilisation’ and ‘occupancy’ data. There was also the recognition that data needs to be consistent, automated, usable, and accurate, and that it is in tandem with energy costs and future occupancy trends analysis.

The benefits of optimisation

The second question our panel posed to the live audience was what benefits could optimising your estate/asset help you achieve?  Again, the results were varied:

  • An operational roadmap
  • Climate targets including carbon and waste reduction
  • Cost reduction
  • Efficiencies and increasing productivity
  • Futureproofing estates.

As with the smarter directives, we know there is a drive for all public estates to be more sustainable and the most effective way is through optimisation of our estates.  At our 2023 conference, 84% of respondents to our survey said that they felt their estates were not optimised and only 21% said they knew what they had, what they needed and had a strategy in place.  A recent news article by Adrian Powell NHS Property Service commented, “Understanding the data that we have available and how best to use it is essential for efficient estate optimisation” and the Welsh Government NZ Strategic Plan[1] outlines that one element of the plan is to “optimise the use of space in our offices” to achieve net zero. 

How to optimise estates is a key strand in public sector strategic plans, whether that is to save them money, to help streamline estates or maintain them. Investing to save, making assets work hard and more efficiently, using money from disposals to recycle into estates through circular economy principles were all areas of discussion. When we asked at the conference this year what benefits they felt optimising their assets would help them achieve, two clear themes arose:

  • Optimisation of assets could save money and also support their carbon ambitions. 
  • Future proofing their estates by lowering costs, increasing efficiencies, and having an operational roadmap were also mentioned as part of these benefits. 

Both the discussions from the panel and the audience’s response highlighted that estate optimisation goes hand in hand with achieving other strategic aims – whether that is net zero or budgetary objectives.

Closing the skills gap: What skills/people are needed to achieve our estate ambitions?

With the public sector being the largest employer within the UK, we raised our final question, what skills or people were felt to be needed to achieve estate ambitions. We had already heard from our panel last year that 73% felt that they only partly had the resource needed and new research from APM revealed that almost half (47%) of project professionals within the built environment believe that skill shortages could impact delivery of projects[2].

  • Private finance navigation
  • Data and digital skills, including AI
  • Project management
  • Strategic and holistic
  • Understand social value
  • And to be creative and passionate but commercial.

So how do we continue to attract the right talent to the industry to ensure can achieve our estate ambitions?  The latest Construction Skills Network (CSN) report[3] highlights that a fifth of construction professionals believe construction talent shortages over the next five to 10 years will be caused by a shortage of digital and technology skills. However, was this the feeling from the conference delegates? Digital and data skills was one of the skillsets identified by those who participated in our survey, but other sorts of people are needed for the future industry, including innovators, -, strategists and those who understood and can navigate private finance and social value. The industry still has a way to go to demonstrate its potential as a career of choice for future leaders and also that the built environment is not just about asset management, but also about building societies and communities to make people’s lives better.

What we’ve learnt from Government Property Conference 24

As we closed on the conference for another year, we reflected on what we have learned from last year and how far we have come. Although we acknowledge there is no one size doesn’t fit all approach we do know that data and insights can help us personalise and make it bespoke for our own environment – so long as the data is robust, and we have a process in place to capture and deliver it consistently.

We also know that sharing knowledge is key and that working across public sector industries and in step with legislation will help us achieve our objectives quicker and drive value-based outcomes. And finally, we know that nurturing our assets, will help them grow, in turn, helping our estates to be more efficient and ultimately, hopefully support our financial, environmental and social challenges.

As we head into an election year, and as the appetite for capturing asset data continues, it will be interesting to see where the discussion about the value of data and its role in managing public sector assets might be by the time Government Property Conference 2025 arrives, and how it can play its role in nurturing that asset money tree.