The government property power players

28 January 2017 – by Louisa Clarence-Smith/span>

The GPU is establishing an agency that will charge government departments market rents for their properties, and surplus land and property gems are being prepared for sale.


It is testament to the labyrinthine vastness of the government estate that the five strategy heads of the Government Property Unit have never before seen the stairwell chosen for the photo shoot to accompany this interview.

Down below, civil servants are filing into 100 Parliament Street, SW2, the grand historic home of HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. Just days away from Christmas, there is no indication of anyone slowing down for the festivities. A sign in the lobby says the security threat level is “heightened”. The morning’s headlines include news of the prime minister Theresa May shrugging off warnings about the civil service’s capacity to deal with Brexit on top of existing commitments. It has been a tough year for the mandarins.

But the government remains fixed on making the civil service leaner and more efficient. An alternative to people and policy cuts is to streamline and commercialise the government estate. This summer, 1,000 HMRC staff will leave their spiritual home and move to Canary Wharf Group’s 10 South Colonnade, E14, dubbed “the Whitehall of the East”. The Cabinet Office, which set up the GPU in 2010, says the move will save around £20m a year in running costs.

The relocation is one small part of a major commercialisation programme overseen by the GPU. The body is in the process of establishing a new agency that will charge departments market rents for their properties. Surplus land and property gems, such as Blythe House, W14, are being prepared for sale. And a new team, the Government Property Agency, has been assembled to run the process.

If it is not exactly selling off all the crown jewels, the government is at least sharing some of the treasure.

Here, we introduce the government property power players holding the keys to the chest.

Sherin Aminossehe, head of the GPU

An Iranian-born architect, Aminossehe was previously a vice president at HOK, leading large masterplanning, rationalisation and regeneration projects across the world from Jeddah to St Petersburg to Bolton. In 2011, she joined the GPU as head of government estate strategy and delivery, coming up with ideas of how to improve working conditions for civil servants while saving money through efficiencies across the public sector. Now she is at the helm of the UK’s largest land and property estate, having succeeded Bruce Mann in October.

Liz Peace, GPA shadow chair

A familiar face to both policymakers and the property industry, Liz Peace, former chief executive of the British Property Federation, has been tasked with creating a new central body that will manage the central government estate: the Government Property Agency.

She is no stranger to operating at the interface of the public and private sector. During her 27 years at the Ministry of Defence, she helped set up and then move towards privatisation of the defence research establishments, which became QinetiQ.

After 13 years at the BPF, Peace thought it was time to retire in 2014.

“Somehow retirement didn’t quite work,” she says. “In fact it was Sherin who said, would I be interested in chairing this new body that we were going to set up to hold assets. And I thought, actually, this was a really brilliant coming-together of both the things I’ve done in my career.”

Ian Playford, interim chief executive of the GPA

A rare specimen in property – a man outnumbered by women – Playford insists he is not a fish out of water. The former executive at Parkridge Holdings, Aviva, JLL and, most recently, group property director at Kingfisher, joined the GPU in July as interim chief executive of the GPA – although his appointment was only revealed in November.

Over a 33-year career in property, he has had plenty of experience of setting up new ventures. At Aviva, he created new funds; at King Sturge, he established the City advisory arm and at Parkridge Holdings he set up new overseas businesses in Russia and western Europe. Most recently, as group property director at Kingfisher, he set up their property function, consolidating areas of 12 siloed businesses.

He is also no stranger to government. Since 2014, he has been non-executive director on the board of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, supporting the executive team to deliver a five-year £700m investment to redesign the business.

Ann Carter-Gray, director of the hubs programme

Carter-Gray spent 13 years working for Boots in a variety of property and strategic asset management roles before joining the civil service in 2000. Appointed regional director for the small business services at the Department of Trade and Industry, she worked in various enterprise policy roles before joining the GPU in 2011. She lives in Nottinghamshire with her farmer husband.

Angela Harrowing, programme director, asset efficiency and One Public Estate

A career civil servant, Harrowing spent nine years working at the Department for Communities and Local Government in various roles including housing, local growth, neighbourhood planning and local government policy. While on the civil service fast-stream, she went on secondment for six months to KPMG, providing services back to central government. Her next fast-stream position was at the GPU, where she has been since 2013.

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