A decision to build a new police station in Bromsgrove and include the fire brigade prompted a transformation in the way the public estate is managed in the West Midlands.
From that decision was born Place Partnership, a single-asset management company, which will manage 1,300 buildings and land belonging to six locally based authorities and have a visiting senior civil servant from the Cabinet Office as chairman.
The initiative forms part of the efficiency drive of the One Public Estate programme, a partnership between government and local councils to encourage better economic use of public property.
The Place Partnership initiative, which employs 27 chartered surveyors and 200 other staff, brings together the assets of Hereford & Worcester Fire Authority, Redditch Borough Council, Warwickshire Police, West Mercia Police, Worcester City Council and Worcestershire County Council, which all hold equal shares in the company.
“It is the partnership between the partners that is key to this, and that is not easy between public bodies,” says managing director Andrew Pollard. “It came about because of the success of the co-operation between police, fire service and county council over the Bromsgrove initiative.”
Place Partnership aims to save taxpayers £58m over 10 years through asset-management initiatives, better use of real estate and efficiencies through economies of scale by pooling assets.
“The big prize is to achieve change in public service delivery,” says Pollard. “For example, all the partners have depots for their vehicles, but why do they need individual ones? And if some are not required, why should they not be sold, for example, for housing to address housing needs for the region?”
Although Norfolk County Council has a facilities management service that it sells as a commercial service, no other region has formed a single property management service across different authorities.
The assets managed by Place Partnership vary from a ransom strip, or verge, to a 17th-century guildhall in Worcester, a castle, schools, libraries, council, police and fire service offices, business parks and even allotments.
“What we are doing is much broader and deeper on real estate than anything that has been attempted before,” says Pollard. “Hence it is the model that the government would like to see developed for the One Public Estate.”
Bruce Mann, a veteran senior figure in the Cabinet Office, will come up from London to chair meetings of the directors, which gives an indication of the importance Whitehall attributes to the Place Partnership.
Some of its decisions may mean the sale of assets, but equally it may mean some are retained and regenerated through investment with private partners. “Potentially, some assets will throw out an income,” says Pollard.
“There is a lot of interest in this, not just within the region but outside it,” he says. “I am getting enquiries from fairly far-flung places in the UK and other public sector bodies that would like to learn from this. But the key to it all is having willing partners.”