Public Services

Data is a hot property

Rob Anderson Published 12 February 2018

Rob Anderson weighs up the likely impact of the Government Property Unit's search for a chief data officer

The Government Property Unit (GPU) is seeking its first ever Chief Data Officer (CDO), in advance of the latest Government Estate Strategy and the [delayed] launch of the Government Property Agency (GPA). The GPA will be the unit that takes ownership of all central government property assets, leasing them back to government bodies at market rates to provide a leaner and more efficient use of the portfolio. It's been running as a shadow organisation for almost two years.

The new CDO will lead a team of 20 staff to gather, analyse and model data on the entire public sector property estate, with a key responsibility to oversee the building of a property asset management register for the Government Hubs and One Public Estate programmes. This seems to confirm that a proposed £4m framework for software to support the New Property Model, outlined in a PIN sixteen months ago has been abandoned.

When the NAO reported on the government's property programmes, it expressed concern that lessons from other shared service type projects had not been learned, with the views of departmental stakeholders not being canvassed sufficiently. The Government Hubs Programme is running well behind schedule with contracts signed for just 9 of the proposed 22 new buildings. Take-up by bodies beyond HMRC, DWP and the Home Office is lagging and the technology to support shared office working, being developed by GDS, is as yet unproven.

Whilst the appointment of a CDO may help GPU to deliver a data-defined and well-modelled strategy, the successful execution of the property rationalisation plan itself remains in doubt. Cabinet Office never seems to understand it is not a Corporate HQ that can demand other departments simply accede to its wishes. Suppliers of smart working products and services should stand ready to step in if departments decide to take back control of their own building support services.

Consumed by Brexit and existential supplier woes, Cabinet Office's ability to coordinate cross-government operations is severely strained in other areas too. The word on the street is that Culture Minister Matt Hancock's growing digital empire at DCMS is about to seize control of pan-government data from GDS, which would be another wound in the slow death of the Guardian's favourite digital agency. While he's not busy appreciating grime music or launching himself as a social media phenomenon, Hancock continues to burnish his credentials as easily the most tech-savvy of the ministerial bunch.


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