Civil servants' city centre move comes with £33m price tag

CIVIL servants who were accused of wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds when furniture and fittings were dumped during an office move spent more than £33m in relocating to new premises just a few streets away, it has emerged.

The Department for Education faced severe criticism last year after the Yorkshire Post discovered that serviceable equipment for 2,000 staff had been discarded at a time when devastating public sector cuts and job losses were being announced.

Many of the office chairs, desks, filing cabinets and cupboards – most almost new – were destined for the tip as managers staged a move from Moorfoot, in Sheffield city centre, to a brand new building in St Paul's Place, two minutes away.

Eventually some of the fixtures and fittings were rescued by a charity which transported them to Kenya to be reused, while some were scrapped and the taxpayer was forced to foot the bill for expensive replacement equipment to fit out the new offices, which overlook Sheffield's redeveloped Peace Gardens.

In the summer, critics called for a curb on the cost of such relocation projects, but the latest revelations about the massive final bill for the move have sparked fresh outrage among groups who speak out against the waste of public money.

The total relocation bill of 33,552,790 was revealed after a request was made to the Department for Education under the Freedom of Information Act to detail the costs of the building, its new fixtures and fittings and new technology.

Figures show that the 250-year lease on the St Paul's Place building cost 25,990,000, while the bill for fitting out the building was almost 5m including fixtures, fittings, carpets, decoration and an electronic security entry system.

The bill for new furniture was 654,047 and information technology and telephones cost 1,785,485.

The Department for Education claimed that the move from Moorfoot was essential in the drive to help managers save money, and also argued that the old building was no longer fit for purpose and "not suitable for staff working arrangements".

However, since the move, bosses at Sheffield Council, which bought the Moorfoot lease from the Government, said it believed the offices were appropriate for its staff and announced plans to move employees into the building after the New Year.

A spokesman for the Department for Education defended the move and said: "The Department's move to St Paul's Place will save money. The Department's former office at Moorfoot was far too big for our requirements and expensive to maintain.

"By selling the remaining term of the Moorfoot lease back to Sheffield Council we were able to offset part of the cost of the relocation. The new building at St Paul's Place will also reduce the Department's running costs by 1.5m per annum.

"We have moved as much of our old furniture as possible into St Paul's Place and some furniture, which was suitable for the second hand market and met health and safety standards, has been sold. For example, our old desks would not fit into our new office where we are sharing seven desks amongst 10 members of staff in order to save costs and improve our efficiency."

Sheffield Council's finance spokesman Simon Clement-Jones said the idea to move council staff into the Moorfoot building had been spurred by the end of leases on other council buildings in the city and added the proposal would provide "greater value for money for council tax-payers".

The TaxPayers Alliance criticised the Department of Education in June after the Yorkshire Post discovered its huge furniture stockpile, which was then being stored in a warehouse awaiting disposal.

Spokesman Andrew Allison said last night that the new revelations made the situation worse and dismissed civil servants' claims that the relocation was necessary to help them make efficiency savings.

He added: "At a time of necessary cuts in public expenditure, taxpayers will be shocked to read these figures.

"The Department of Education has thrown perfectly useable furniture into skips, and although it says it is saving money, if the building in Moorfoot is so expensive to run, why has Sheffield City Council moved some of its staff in?

"Spending more than 30m of our money in this current climate cannot be justified, and the Department of Education is coming out with excuses to justify this enormous expense," he said.

Where the money will be going...

One-off cost of 250-year leasehold on office block in St Paul's Place: 25,990,000.

Building fit-out: 4,863,537.

New furniture: 654,047.

Information technology costs: 1,785,485.

General removals costs associated with relocation: 259,721.

TOTAL: 33,552,790.