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The challenges and opportunities facing the UK public sector’s science estate – a three part series

Part 3

In our first blog we looked at the diversity of the public sector science estate. We noted that whilst different research requires different facilities, there are some common themes:

  • Estate management;
  • Investment planning;
  • Running costs;
  • Carbon footprint; and,
  • Skills and knowledge.

By looking at common themes and sharing experience and good practice across this fragmented estate, there is scope for quick wins and long-term improvements.

In our second blog we reviewed estate management and investment planning in the public sector science estate. This blog explores running costs, carbon footprint and skills and knowledge.

Running costs and carbon footprint


The public sector’s one million square metre science estate has annual running costs c. £170 million.

Rising utilities costs have reinforced the need to look at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the science estate through:

  • Whole life costing and carbon for any new investment – designing in energy efficiency at the start of any new facilities or equipment project;
  • Reducing energy in use – unlike the office estate there is little scope to make marginal gains through turning down the temperature or turning off the lights. There is however scope to look to optimise utilisation of lab and research space so that it can be used more efficiently;
  • Sourcing – looking at the potential for using alternative and renewable energy supplies whilst addressing resilience / availability criteria as well as cost and emissions; and,
  • Monitoring and reporting – understanding utilities consumption and having the evidence to make choices about future priorities for the estate.

Skills and knowledge (in-house and supply chain)


Scientists rely on the estate to support their research. There needs to be a strong alignment of objectives and understanding of requirements between the estates and facilities professionals and the researchers. This is particularly important where responsibility for estates and equipment management is split, and roles and responsibilities need to be clear.

We often see specialist skills and knowledge being retained in-house. Where services are outsourced, the in-house team needs to have a strong understanding of the requirements of the science and nature of the assets. Good practice is for specialist (often smaller) suppliers to be used; short response times specified; and familiarity with the estate encouraged. This is a particular challenge in the public sector estate where large frameworks and traditional procurement routes may not provide the right specialist skills in the required timescale. We have seen estates and commercial teams mitigating this by working together to move to put in place bespoke contracting arrangements.

The fragmentation of the ownership and management of properties across many public, private and university bodies means that specialist skills are developed within individual organisations. In the same way as collaboration in research is encouraged, more could be done to facilitate sharing of best practice and lessons through a community of science estates professionals. A great example of this knowledge sharing takes place between the UKRI Research Councils.

Through sharing good practice, quick wins and long-term improvements can be introduced across the estate, leading to more efficient operations, enabling the ground-breaking research which will improve all our lives.

Our thinking