A fifth of civil service work stations across the central government estate in the North (6,382) - including at departmental buildings in Derry - were workerless at the end of 2014/15, according to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office.
The Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, estimated the cost to the people of the North of maintaining the vacant desks was £17.3 million a year, and warned there was a need for more workers in smaller offices.
Remarkably, the office estate provided just over 35,000 workstations but 18 per cent of these were free. The entire central government estate comprises 276 offices, including in Orchard House and Waterside House among other buildings in Derry, and the direct cost of running this amounts to £96 million a year.
“The current configuration and management of the office buildings used by government departments is not delivering value for money,” said Mr. Donnelly.
“The existing office estate consists, to a significant extent, of highly inefficient, cellular and ageing accommodation.
“I reported on Property Asset Management in 2012 and while some action has been taken, only two out of the ten key recommendations, which I have made have been fully implemented.
“I welcome the generation of £17.7 million in savings across the office estate since the 2012 report but many opportunities still exist to release further, significant savings. Department of Finance’s Reform of Property Management (RPM) programme will, by centralising management of the office estate, address many of the long-standing problems.
“Following full implementation DoF will have a clearer role in overseeing management of the office estate.”
The solution to the problem, according to Mr. Donnelly, is “higher numbers and densities of staff in modern, space efficient and fit for purpose premises”.