New ways of working brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic could cause Leeds City Council to sell more of its buildings quicker than it had anticipated, writes Richard Beecham.
It follows an announcement at the beginning of this year that the council was looking to generate £95m through the sale of its buildings, over the next three years.
But, since the coronavirus pandemic, the council has increased the numbers of its staff working from home from 800 to 8,000, leaving large parts of the authority’s buildings unused.
Leeds City Council’s Director of City Development, Martin Farrington, told a meeting of a council scrutiny board that a survey taken by staff saw many indicate that they preferred working from home.
He said the responses could lead to the council generating extra cash by selling surplus buildings more quickly than it had planned.
A further report, set to go before councillors later this week, claims around 50 per cent of council-run offices are also likely to be sold in the coming years.
Mr Farrington said: “One of the key areas in the report highlights the survey of staff working from home – the outcome of that survey being that 52 percent would like to work from home most or all of the time.
“Looking at the implications on our property portfolio, it does lead to us looking at options towards rationalising our estate.”
Coun Neil Buckley (Con) asked for specific dates as to when the council could sell certain buildings.
Mr Farrington said: “We had gradually increased working from home over the years, but during the pandemic, it has become a necessity on a very significant scale.
“The level of home working post-pandemic is going to increase, but it is important that we pick up on those aspects.”
He added forthcoming auctions in October, December and February would be where the council was looking to use to sell some of its buildings.
A report set to go before members of the council’s decision-making executive board later this week claims the council is looking to sell at least half of its “core office estate”.
It states: “Our estate must respond to and meet service requirements including the delivery of statutory and front line services as well as back-office functions, team working and work with partners. The shape, format and use of the estate will therefore be informed by user needs, will be guided by service reviews and must sit hand in hand with organisational design and the council’s work from home policy.
“This will allow us to rightsize the council’s estate, focusing on our most efficient, flexible and best quality buildings will reduce the council’s operational cost, whilst allowing opportunities for capital receipts and support our target of carbon net zero.
“Given the changes we are seeing around the way staff will work, we have defined a working target of a 50 percent reduction of our core office estate.
“In addition it is likely that ongoing service reviews may also identify additional rationalisation opportunities as we seek to ensure that all of our buildings are appropriately utilised, supporting both the user and customer experience.”
It did not outline which buildings these would be the first to be sold, but added a confidential list of sites was set to go to auction in October.
The document claimed the “rationalisation programme” currently expected over the next five to seven years, would instead take place over the next three financial years.
A report which went before councillors back in January this year claimed the authority expected to raise around £95m by selling dozens of sites across the city between 2019 and 2022.
In addition to sites already sold, such as Cardigan Road Library and the former Wortley High School, it listed sites including the former Holt Park District Centre, Otley Civic Centre and Abbey Mills in Kirkstall for “disposal” over the next couple of years.
Council officers said the sales would only be for “surplus” sites, and would allow the authority to continue to provide certain services.