In the wake of plans to slash council budgets up and down the country, Southwark Council’s intention to buy their currently leased London offices for £150m might seem a little extravagant. But in reality, such a move could be highly beneficial for the council – in more ways than one.
The Tooley Street office property at Tower Bridge, located in the shadow of the iconic Shard, has recently been put up for sale for £150m by HSBC Private Bank. Despite interest from overseas investors, the council reportedly managed to beat off competition with its own offer and secure a deal on the property, subject to further approvals from the council cabinet.
If the deal goes through, the council would gain ownership of the office space which would increase their flexibility – meaning they can effectively make alterations to the office space layout to enhance staff productivity. For instance, various studies have shown how flexible working can greatly increase staff motivation levels and boost productivity. So should the council decide to introduce flexible methods such as remote working, it would be much easier to implement new features such as hotdesking space for remote staff, without the obstacles associated with rental agreements.
The other obvious advantage is cost. The council reportedly pays a figure of £7.7m each year on a lease which runs until 2033, with no break clauses. Therefore under the current agreement, the council would have to pay at least another £161m – assuming the rent stays at that figure for the next 21 years. Which, they claim, it probably won’t.
“We currently pay £7.7m each year in rent,” a council report states, which was drawn up to put the purchase case forward. “This figure is likely to increase through rent reviews.”
It continued: “The decision of the owners of the building to sell it has therefore presented the council with a unique opportunity. The choice we have is analogous to someone renting their home being offered the opportunity to buy it for a mortgage that costs less each month than the rent.”
The report went on to claim that if the council purchased the building, it would “reduce its annual costs” and allow the council to gain ownership of an “important asset”. As previously mentioned, the report claims that it also “increases the flexibility we have in how we use it.”
As part of its case for buying the property, the report concludes that demand for Central London offices remains buoyant despite the challenging economic climate, and claims that this level of demand is set to continue.