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Our new GIS application supports our transparency policy by making it far easier for people to find out about available property assets.

Improving transparency in Central Government

Firmly committed to improving transparency in Central Government, the Cabinet Office has developed a GIS-based web app that makes vacant property and land information more accessible to the public. Over time, it hopes that this online solution will lead to a decrease in under-utilised government-owned assets and increase revenue for government departments.


Case study – Central Government


The Customer

The Cabinet Office supports the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and ensures the effective running of government. It is also the corporate headquarters for government, in partnership with HM Treasury, and takes the lead in certain critical policy areas.

This GIS app supports the government’s transparency agenda, making information far more accessible to citizens

The use of Esri’s ArcGIS platform ensures that the web app is easy to use, allowing people to quickly find vacant properties and land in their chosen locations

The Cabinet Office streams background mapping data direct into its web solution, saving time on data preparation and management

The Challenge

One of the defining policies of the current Coalition Government is to make data about its operations, services and assets more accessible. To support this agenda, the Cabinet Office has developed a web based geographic information system (GIS) to improve transparency specifically in the area of property management.

Across the country, there are hundreds of vacant buildings or offices and disused parcels of land owned by Central Government which are available for sale or rent. The Cabinet Office used to publish details about this available property on the website data.gov.uk in a series of data tables. However, it recognised that the information wasn’t easy for members of the public to access.

Chris Statham, Head of data services at the Cabinet Office, explains: “It was extremely tricky for people to find information about property in their area. They had to download a large file, convert it to Microsoft Excel and then trawl through extensive data tables to try to identify buildings and areas of land to suit their needs. Rather than just providing this raw data, we decided to provide an online application that would be quick and easy to use.”

“ It was extremely tricky for people to find information about property in their area […] Rather than just providing this raw data, we decided to provide an online application that would be quick and easy to use

Chris Statham – Head of Data Services at the Cabinet Office

The Solution

The Cabinet Office already relied on Esri’s ArcGIS Server platform to manage its property data and was able to use the integral services and capabilities of this powerful GIS solution to build the new application, which it calls ‘Find Me Some Government Space’. The organisation has an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with Esri UK, so it was able to develop its new web-based GIS very economically, with no additional software costs.

Like well-known commercial property search websites, the ‘Find Me Some Government Space’ application allows members of the public, businesses and developers to enter a town name or postcode and then search for property within a specified radius. Users can select to view only property for sale or for rent, or both together, and view the results on interactive maps at a variety of scales. If, for example, a group wants to establish a new free school in a city, it can now easily enter the city name and see all available development land and vacant buildings that might provide suitable sites for the new school.

For this new GIS application, the Cabinet Office decided to take advantage of Esri UK’s Data Services for the first time. Esri UK therefore streams up-to-date background mapping from Ordnance Survey direct into the online application. The use of these data services saves the organisation a great deal of time, as its employees and contractors no longer have to manage and load data updates.

Such has been the success of Esri UK’s Data Services that the Cabinet Office now plans to gradually migrate current and future GIS applications to this service. Eventually, it will no longer have to store large mapping data sets onsite, so will be able to reduce its Storage Area Networks and associated software, hardware and rack space. “We haven’t done any specific calculations, but recognise that there will be a cost saving from the expanded use of Esri UK’s Data Services in the future,” Statham says.

“ The Cabinet Office has a very strong transparency policy and is committed to making data more accessible to the public. Our new GIS application supports that policy by making it far easier for people to find out about available property assets for sale or for rent

Chris Statham – Head of Data Services at the Cabinet Office

Benefits

‘Find Me Some Government Space’ is the first public-facing GIS ever developed by the Cabinet Office and, as such, it showcases a new way to improve transparency in the public sector. The online app makes data about over 600 Government-owned properties and land parcels far easier to find and thereby delivers a better quality of service for citizens. Every week, the application receives over 4,000 hits, which is a strong testimony to its success.

The Cabinet Office anticipates that the new online GIS could generate more requests to rent or buy unused property owned by Central Government. Indeed, in the long run, it believes that the solution could decrease the amount of under-utilised space in Central Government, creating added revenue for government departments and delivering a better ‘return’ on assets for the tax payer.

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