It seems that at long last the message might be getting through. Instead of seeing flexible working as just a ‘family friendly’ provision, a government minister has now recognized that it can also deliver massive cost savings.

Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, announced this week that the government could save £15 billion per year by adopting flexible working and home working practices. He based this on a report just published by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum chaired by Matthew Hancock MP. This group published a report in February 2011, called ‘Leaner and Greener: Delivering Effective Estate Management’, which estimated that public sector organisations could deliver £7 billion in annual savings from decreasing the space they occupy. The latest report ‘Leaner and Greener II’ adds a further £8 billion to the total, based on increased productivity.

The report and its recommendations concentrate on real estate and the way that property costs can be reduced by better utilisation and rationalisation. However it concludes that “Research shows that improvements to the workplace can enhance productivity of employees from between 5%-15%”. Using the bottom of this range they calculate that £8 billion a year can be saved from government expenditure by having more effective workplaces.

While this report is primarily focused on efficiency savings achievable through property, it adds “it is important to emphasise that the relative weightings of property and staff costs … display that the cost of human resources far outstrips property cost. In addition, evidence shows that flexible working opportunities are an important element in retaining a highly skilled workforce and lowering turnover, as employees seek employers able to provide them with work- life balance. Flexible working therefore has significant potential to not only deliver property savings, but can importantly also reduce staff costs.”

So maybe the government need to follow up with a report looking at the potential for savings based on new working practices and not just include it as an afterthought in a report about property.