Adapting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's global estate to the modern world - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1 Strategy and Implementation

1.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (the Department's) previous estate strategy provided a high level description of the estate's strategic aims but lacked detail on its estate requirements, whether the estate met these requirements, and how any gaps would be addressed.[2] The Department said it was in the final stages of agreeing a new estate strategy which would provide a fuller explanation of the estate it aspires to run and the principles it will operate in doing so.[3]

2.  The Department conceded that resource constraints meant it was not able to implement the strategy as fast and as comprehensively as it would like, although it was able to do essential work to refurbish out-of-date embassies and replace those which are not secure.[4] The Department was also tackling a backlog of maintenance, security and health and safety works caused partly by budget pressures in recent years.[5] The Department agreed that it was unacceptable that 40% of the estate no longer complied with legal and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) standards, and was putting extra money into the budget in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 for health and safety works.[6]

3.  The Department's new Estates Director is a qualified chartered surveyor and expert on estates management.[7] The Estates Director will be responsible for implementing the new strategy. The Department was confident he would have the authority required to drive through the necessary changes throughout the Department's global estate, and that there was also an appetite for progress amongst staff overseas who would be responsible for implementing the strategy on the ground.[8]

4.  The diverse nature of the Department's estate means that its overseas staff, few of whom are estates professionals, must be capable of implementing the strategy in all of the Department's locations around the world. They must be capable of producing data, managing projects and preventing overspends.[9] To help overseas staff implement the strategy successfully, the Department said it planned to set up a regional network of estates professionals. This network would give ambassadors in Africa, Asia and the Americas access to estates expertise, and would also enable the Department to ensure that staff overseas are complying with their responsibilities.[10]

5.  Decisions about whether to invest in, or dispose of, properties are taken centrally by the Department in London. Staff overseas are empowered to take day-to-day decisions on how they run the estate on the ground.[11] The Department recognised that it had not necessarily got the balance right in the past between central direction and local level empowerment, and hoped to provide a clearer framework through its new strategy. For example, it planned to have a professional project sponsor for its major projects, but for embassies to manage smaller projects themselves.[12]

2   C&AG's Report, para 5 Back

3   Q 2 Back

4   Q 4 Back

5   Qq 4 and 108 Back

6   Q 108 Back

7   Qq 1 and 29-30 Back

8   Qq 7 and 8 Back

9   Qq 35-37 Back

10   Q 37 Back

11   Qq 38 and 40 Back

12   Qq 46 and 47 Back

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Prepared 1 April 2010