I am pleased with that clarification, although we had the urgent question on 30 January, after the UK-wide announcement on 26 January, and the Westminster Hall debate in this Chamber on 20 December, as well as a number of oral and written questions—the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, Stewart Malcolm McDonald, suggested more than 100. I have not been counting, but I confirm that it is a substantial number. Of course, we have had the opportunity to meet one to one and with groups as well. I am grateful for this further opportunity to debate these important matters.
On 31 March next year, the DWP’s 20-year private finance initiative contract, which covers the majority of the Department’s property portfolio of more than 900 sites, will expire. The Department for Work and Pensions currently occupies about 1.5 million square metres of office space, and these days at least 20% of it is under-occupied. The falling claimant count and the increased use of our online services in recent years means that 20% of the taxpayers’ money that the Department is spending on rent is going towards space that is not being used. By paying only for the space we do need and the services required to operate from that, we anticipate saving about £180 million a year for the next 10 years.
The expiry of that contract at the end of March 2018 presents both a unique opportunity and a specific requirement to review the estate. In response to changing demands facing the Department, we have redesigned the estate in a way that delivers better value for the taxpayer. I need to be clear that this is not about reducing services; it is about taking the opportunity to stop spending taxpayers’ money on unused space so that we can target money effectively on supporting those in need. We have carefully considered the challenges that we anticipate the Department is likely to face in the future, but the jobs landscape and the way people work has changed significantly in the past 20 years.
As has been mentioned, some 90% of universal credit claims are made online and with more of our services moving online, in common with other organisations, we want to continue making the most of the opportunities that new technologies present to help best meet our claimants’ needs.