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Government speeds up sale of UK diplomatic properties

Plans to sell off UK government properties around the world are being stepped up in an effort to cut running costs.

Despite a worldwide property slump, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office plans to sell overseas property worth £60 million a year until 2015. The government is under pressure to sell off its more opulent residences at a time of austerity.

The Foreign Office also plans to quit the Old Admiralty Building, its historic grade-II listed building in Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall.

As we change the structure of the workforce overseas, we shall have to provide less accommodation

Simon Fraser, permanent secretary, Foreign Office

The department disclosed to Exaro details of 56 properties sold worldwide since the beginning of 2009, most of them diplomatic residential accommodation, for a total of £43.5 million. They include 12 homes worth more than £1 million each.

The Conservative-led government has trebled the annual sales target compared with the previous administration. In 2004, the Foreign Office committed to making property sales of £140 million in seven years to 2011.

The department said in a statement: “I can confirm that the Foreign Office’s target over the four years… until March 2015, is £240 million. Capital proceeds from sales are ‘recycled’ into the Foreign Office’s capital investment programme.”

The sales are aimed at reducing the cost of running overseas properties, with the government wanting to avoid accusations of high living among its diplomats. In July, the Foreign Office disclosed salaries of senior staff, and Exaro compiled a league table of senior diplomats’ pay.

The planned sales represent more than 12 per cent of the Foreign Office’s global estate, which is valued at just over £2 billion.

According to the details released by the Foreign Office, a single residence in Oporto, Portugal, was sold for just above £6 million.

The deputy head of mission’s residence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was sold for more than £5 million. The Foreign Office said that the deputy high commissioner was moved to a rented apartment.

It also sold properties in Seoul, South Korea, where three residences went for a total of nearly £5 million. In Washington, seven properties were sold for just over £4 million in total.

As part of its cost-cutting measures, the Foreign Office is recruiting more overseas staff in preference to paying to accommodate British staff abroad.

Simon Fraser, permanent secretary of the Foreign Office and head of the diplomatic service, told the House of Commons public accounts committee in June: “We shall, unfortunately, be able to post fewer of our junior UK-based staff overseas in future, because it is relatively very expensive to post them overseas when we can often recruit people locally to fulfil those functions.”

“As we change the structure of the workforce overseas, we shall have to provide less accommodation… Therefore, obviously, we would sell off any owned properties that had previously been used in that area.”

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