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

Part 2

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

  • 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 this blog we review maintenance and investment planning in the public sector’s science estate. The final blog will explore running costs, carbon footprint and skills and knowledge.


Managing the estate


The research carried out by the UK’s public sector science organisations creates unique challenges for real estate management. Whether its medicine or physics, there can be no failure in power supply; environments need to be carefully managed to maintain heat and humidity levels and support sensitive measurement equipment; and there may be high and surging calls on power. This means all building control systems including lighting, air conditioning, and security, must be constantly available and maintained with back-ups in place; environments must be constantly controlled and monitored; and there are high utilities costs with associated high carbon emissions.

A proactive approach to maintenance, underpinned by excellent data on asset criticality and condition is key. This needs to be a dynamic process – an asset can be critical when supporting research but not critical when not in use. Both estates and science teams need to feed into critical asset registers, and we see good practice where there are processes in place for these two groups to collaborate around criticality and condition of existing assets as well as when new research is initiated.

Regular inspection, potentially supported by sensors and combined with data visualisation and analytics can be used to improve decision-making through real-time monitoring of performance, identification of issues and predicting maintenance requirements.

Maintenance needs to be supported by a supply chain that is embedded in the estates and science teams, with specialist knowledge of the assets and responsive contract structures (see our next blog).


Investment planning


The public sector faces challenges in planning for strategic investment in the science estate. Annual budgets and three-year Spending Review cycles make it hard to commit to long-term maintenance plans. Conversely, funding may become available at relatively short notice towards the end of a financial year, resulting in priority to projects that can spend within timescales rather than necessarily the most important.

We have seen good practice in investment planning, in which organisations have a clear long-term view, against which short-term funding can be deployed. Ten or more year plans, which include asset life and replacement requirements, should be used as a tool to drive investment requirements, support financial planning, and help mitigate outstanding maintenance activities. Even where funding cycles are relatively short, there should be a view of the long-term investment requirements to inform planning and prioritisation.

Rising utilities costs further highlight the need to take account of energy efficiency in strategic asset management. Upfront investment in sustainability initiatives should be factored into long-term investment planning to help reduce lifecycle emissions and running costs (see out next blog).

There is scope for best practice in maintenance and investment planning to be shared across the range of organisations involved in managing the public sector’s science estate to create quick wins and long-term improvements. In our next blog we will look at running costs, carbon footprint and skills and knowledge.

Our thinking