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GO Interview – Vice Admiral Tim Laurence

Wednesday September 16th, 2009

by Morven MacNeil, GO Features Editor

Vice Admiral Tim Laurence, Chief Executive of Defence Estates and recently appointed Head of the Government’s Property Asset Management Profession, speaks to GO Features Editor Morven MacNeil about his new role and his most significant achievements since taking over at Defence Estates.

High Performing Property was launched in November 2006, setting out the framework and direction for improving strategic property asset management in central government over a defined period with key actions, milestones and objectives. Vice Admiral Tim Laurence, Chief Executive of Defence Estates, has been appointed as the Head of the Property Asset Management Profession within government, to raise the status of both the community of property management practitioners and property asset management in general.

GO spoke to Vice Admiral Laurence about the challenges he faces in his new role and his work at Defence Estates.

You have recently been appointed as Head of the Government’s Property Asset Management Profession. What will your role entail?

It’s still early days and I am currently working out precisely what my role will entail, but initially it will be to identify who the property asset management professionals are and what their role involves, and to ensure that the office acts as a focal point for the profession across the government sector. I am in consultation with the Heads of Estate in all the other government departments to get their views about how we should define the profession and what direction we should take it in.

How do you plan to champion the government property asset management community?

Currently there is no clear identity as to what a property asset management professional is. Once we have defined it better, I think we need to raise the profile of that community across government to give it a profile equivalent to other professional resources such as HR, Finance and IT. Up until now, property asset management has been the poor relation, partly because it hasn’t been very well defined.

You are also CE of Defence Estates; how will your experience in this capacity help you to achieve your goals within your property asset management remit?

What I have discovered at Defence Estates (DE) over the past two years is the tremendous range of skills and expertise needed to manage government property. The defence estate covers around one per cent of the UK landmass as well as a substantial portfolio of property overseas, and w have around 4000 people working in the organisation, consisting of professional surveyors, people who understand what it is to manage a large office building, and people who understand how to manage the rural environment.

And of course the Government Estate contains many listed buildings as well as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and we need to include the valuable expertise we have in looking after those very important aspects of our national heritage.

What do you see as your greatest achievement since taking over at Defence Estates?

The greatest achievement, in my mind, is the Defence Estates Development Plan published in June 2008, which sets out, as clearly as we can, the way we intend to develop the defence estate over the next 20 years. For the first time, we have set out our plans in public and in a coherent way.

The plan is useful as a vehicle for disseminating our views throughout the regions of England and the devolved administrations, explaining what we are trying to do so that we can discuss with them about how best we can achieve our objectives together.

What do you consider the greatest challenge facing DE?

When I started this job just over two years ago, I was asked what my top three priorities were and I said they were accommodation, accommodation and accommodation! This remains both my top priority and my greatest challenge.

There is a great deal of accommodation – some 160,000 single rooms and 70,000 family homes within the defence estate alone – many of which are out of date and in a state of disrepair. We’re putting a huge amount of effort into improving accommodation and upgrading it.

But there is a long way to go and I suspect that this will still be the biggest challenge facing my successors.

You recently gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute on the carbon agenda. Will you be implementing a sustainability agenda in your new role?

Sustainability and carbon reduction are very high on the agenda of all property asset management professionals. I hope that we will be able to provide a lead in that. The agenda, of course, is set by Government and we have our sustainability targets to meet, but I hope that we will be able to get together and work out better ways of achieving the targets that we have been set.

Is the defence estate on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and if so how has this been achieved?

By 2008 we had reduced our carbon emissions by about ten per cent compared to 2000, so we’ve made a start. We have a lot more to do though, and we need to keep the pressure on, rather than sitting back and thinking we’ve done enough.

How have we achieved it so far? Well, firstly, we have a better understanding of where we are using energy and of the other uses of carbon. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and that is particularly true in the energy and carbon worlds. So we are producing better data, but we need to do more than that. For example we are installing smart meters, which measure energy better, and talking to people across the defence and wider government estate about their ideas for reducing emissions, because almost more than in any other part of government business we need ideas from the people on the ground as to how they can do things better.

How important do you believe innovative thinking will be in achieving efficiency savings over the coming years?

Innovative thinking will be absolutely vital and this is what can be achieved by listening to the people on the ground about their ideas for improving energy efficiency. I think there is also a very important leadership role here. I am not just talking about leadership at the top in Whitehall, but leadership at every level down through the public sector to encourage people to think about doing things differently and come up with ideas about how we can make savings and efficiencies.

What are the most significant changes that you have seen in procurement over the last few years?

Certainly for the MOD, our biggest change in procurement was to go down the Prime Contracting route. We now deliver the majority of our services on the estate through Prime Contractors and we are playing more of a contract management and intelligent client role, rather than actually delivering the services directly. I believe there is scope to develop this role more widely across the public sector. We have learned a lot from Prime Contracting and partnering with industry. While we have done some things well, there are some other things we could have done better and we need to share our experiences across government.

What do you believe will be the biggest public procurement challenges in the years ahead?

I think what is on everybody’s mind at the moment is the state of public finances and the assumption that there are going to be significant cuts in public spending over the next few years, so I guess the biggest challenge will be to work out how we can keep the best of our investment programmes going to rationalise the estate and invest in sustainability while our overall capital budgets are being cut. That will be very difficult over the next few years – though I am looking forward to the challenge!

Thank you for speaking to GO.


Vice Admiral Tim Laurence is the Government’s first Head of the Property Asset Management Profession, appointed in July 2009, and has been CE of Defence Estates since 2007. At DE he is responsible for the development and implementation of strategy and policy, including sustainable development; the Defence Estates Development Plan; recommending priorities for investment in the defence estate; monitoring the performance of the defence estate against targets set out in annual Service Delivery Agreements; ensuring accommodation strategy is coherent with the personnel line of development; and overseeing multi-customer estate projects.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has made Vice Admiral Laurence an Honorary Member in recognition of this very significant span of asset management responsibility.

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