State properties could be sold to private firms and leased back, says Minister

OPW rent bill down €30m over four years

Minister of State with  responsibility for the Office of Public Works Brian Hayes  said he would look at new models of funding public buildings which require investment. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works Brian Hayes said he would look at new models of funding public buildings which require investment. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Wed, Jul 31, 2013, 01:00

The Government will consider selling State properties and leasing them back from private companies as part of a property asset management plan, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Brian Hayes has said.

The Minister of State said he would look at new models of funding public buildings which require investment. The OPW would host public consultations with the industry in the autumn “on how best to develop workable funding models”.

This could include “sale and lease back”, he said.

“I have a very open view about that,” the Minister said.

Launching the property management plan, Mr Hayes said it would deliver savings over the next few years.

He also said the OPW had reduced its rent bill by over €30 million.

Four years ago the cost of rent in the public sector was €131 million, he said, and would be down to under €100 million next year.

The State had “got out of” 150 leases and surrendered half a million square feet of office space.

Public property portfolio
The plan, developed by a steering group on property asset management, aims to improve the planning and management of the public property portfolio.

The steering group will look at “space norms and office requirements”, open-plan office accommodation and the potential for sharing accommodation, Mr Hayes said.

“This plan challenges the kind of silo mentality that often exists in the public sector,” he said.

“With office rationalisation and with shared services there is now a wonderful opportunity to really rationalise the old estate and to make sure we are getting value for money for the taxpayer.”

The plan includes the development of a property managers’ network made up of State organisations that hold property.

Protocols
They will work out protocols for the transfer of ownership of property from one organisation to another that are surplus to requirements.

All secretary generals and public agencies will be held accountable for the use of office accommodation within their area of responsibility.

Mr Hayes also said that the OPW would launch an online register next year identifying all State lands and buildings.

Also speaking at the launch, chairwoman of the OPW Clare McGrath said there were buildings of 30 or 40 years old that required deep retrofit work and elements such as new windows.

She said the OPW was carrying out surveys to identify these buildings, and, once identified, decisions would be taken on which ones to invest in.

Asked if the OPW was stuck with leases for empty buildings for which it needed to continue paying rent, Ms McGrath said no.