No Empty Government Buildings for SMEs

PadlockedLast year we reported that empty government offices were to be rented to startups and entrepreneurs in an attempt to boost business.

The intention, according to David Cameron was that the "huge stock" of empty government buildings would not sit idle and that they would be put to good use.

However, in a story in The Guardian last week, a Treasury official is quoted as saying that not one single building has been occupied since the announcement of the plan a year ago.

The newspaper has obtained a leaked letter sent to the Public Accounts Committee from the Treasury’s permanent secretary, Nick Macpherson, saying that only four properties could be used.

After initially planning to release around 300 unused government buildings, a pilot scheme eventually found 145 empty buildings in 95 locations but many, according to Macpherson, were too small or in a poor condition.

Other issues with the vacant government properties included security issues, restricted use leases – stopping anyone but government from using the building – and some leases not providing long enough terms to give some sort of stability to the small businesses that might occupy them.

By May 2012, just four months after the initial announcement, the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) had earmarked only 20 empty buildings in 18 locations across the country. As well as London, Birmingham and Bristol, properties in Bolton, Blackpool, Colchester, Leeds, Northampton, Oxford, Peterborough, Rugby, Runcorn and Waterlooville were also found to be potentially viable.

Four further properties were added to the list and around 60 people were reported to have expressed interest in procuring the buildings for commercial purposes. In the end only 8 properties received bids.

Speaking with The Guardian, a government representative assured that the project to rent ex-government buildings to SMEs was still continuing.

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