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ESTATES, FACILITIES & FIRE PROTECTION


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Worcestershire County Council has transformed its estate portfolio through collaboration and innovation. Peter Parkes, head of property services, told us more.


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orcestershire County Council has won many plaudits for the transformation of its property portfolio, including at a recent achievement awards. It has demonstrated a level of partnership and innovation admired by countless councils seeking to redesign services in the most cost-effective way.


Head of property services Peter Parkes spoke to PSE about streamlining estate, sharing working space and collaborating on services to reduce spending and save the frontline from cuts.


“We had to rationalise our property portfolio to try to take costs out of property as opposed to frontline services,” he said.


19 partners


Over the past few years, the county has created a “complete public sector partnership”, consisting of an impressive 19 different partners “coming together on a regular basis to review how we are using all of our property, trying to find more effective ways of doing it”.


This ranged from co-locating and sharing buildings to boosting regeneration and growth in town centres by strategically placing a property on the market together; creating a ‘one-town approach’ to how public services are delivered.


42 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12


It’s not just county council offices that have been affected, something Parkes explained was done “many moons ago”.


He added: “We’ve tried to take that a whole step further jointly across Worcestershire – that’s health, police, fire, district and county councils, all of the public sector – we think we can reduce our portfolio by as much as 25% from its current size.”


So far 40 of the county council’s non-school buildings have been identified for disposal through sharing facilities, joining up services and transforming the way the public sector works.


Parkes believes that collaboration is the best way to achieve these results, and that Worcestershire has benefited from public sector partners open to change.


“I would say it has to be if you’re going to maximise what you can get from this,” he said. “There are always benefits, just from rationalising yourself. If no-one else was interested, we would still be doing some of this work at the county council, but the really big benefits come when you look at what you can do jointly and collaboratively.”


With so many partners to juggle, such


collaboration could easily get out of hand, but Parkes explained that the council started out “fairly tentatively” and set some ground rules to ensure transparency and honesty were upheld throughout the project.


“The key has been that you have to work hard to make sure that everybody gains something from the process, and if they do then they can see the benefit of continuing to work in this way.”


“The reality of it is the numbers are hard to argue with!” he added, highlighting that the county council alone has identified around £4-5m reductions in running costs per year through the transformation work.


Examples of partnership throughout the county include the first joint police and fire stations to be built in Bromsgrove and Redditch and the celebrated ‘Hive’ project; a fully integrated joint library run by the county council and the University of Worcester (pictured top right).


The breadth of the partnerships range from two participants to five on site together, with a couple of projects where all 19 are involved, focusing on issues like training facilities and depots.


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