Up to £3.4m could be saved over the next five years if Stormont made better use of its property assets, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has claimed.
A new report published on Tuesday has called for a major change in the way Government-owned land and buildings were run, in order to maximise value for money.
Northern Ireland’s comptroller and auditor general Keiran Donnelly said: “Significant progress is now being made to gather the basic information needed to enable central Government to critically assess how it manages and uses its properties. However, it is some way from maximising value for money.”
The Government estate spans a wide range of public bodies including departments, executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies and health and social services.
Departments and public bodies may own, lease or manage their own accommodation. However, many use the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) Properties Division.
In 2010/11 the costs associated with running the 153 DFP-managed properties occupied by 18,750 staff was over £73m.
According to the audit report, additional savings could be made on rent, rates and service charges if departments shared facilities, reviewed occupancy levels and considered the rationalisation of property assets.
The document added: “To illustrate the potential for efficiencies if a 5% reduction in floorspace was achieved each year over the next five years, for Properties Division alone, this could potentially reduce the floor space required by 80,000 metres squared equating to potential average gross annual savings of close to £3.4m in each of the next five years.”
The auditor claimed substantial gains could be made from centralised control of Government property assets, including the administrative office estate.
The auditor general published research in June which found Northern Ireland lagged behind England and Wales in relation to estate management — with some public bodies unaware of the full costs of their property assets. In Britain the annual cost of the civil estate has been reduced by over £800m. However, the average space efficiency of the Properties Division office estate in NI is 50% higher than in England.