Congleton: Work from home for council staff considered as it saved almost £1 million in public money

  Posted: 14.09.21 at 17:04 by Belinda Ryan, Local Democracy Reporter

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Cheshire East is to begin talks with council staff and unions about new working practices in a bid to cut costs.

As previously reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council saved more than £920,000 on staff mileage claims in the 2020/21 financial year when workers were based at home because of the pandemic.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the corporate policy committee, Jane Burns, the council’s executive director of corporate services, praised staff members who had worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and said: “There have been some positive changes that have been brought about which will allow us to review our ways of working, and some of the costs of those ways of working.”

Ms Burns said: “We’ve worked on developing proposals for the future workplace and looking to embed more permanent agile and flexible ways of working, and this also does bring with it some financial benefits, particularly in relation to reduced costs of travel, and obviously reduced energy costs in buildings.”

She said councillors had already agreed, as part of the medium term financial strategy, [budget] a proposal to look at travel and other terms and conditions of service.

“It is 10 years since those have been refreshed in Cheshire East Council and this is really asking for approval for us to start those formal talks with the trade unions and the workforce.”

She said they would be looking at areas that were ‘out of kilter’ with neighbouring councils.

But some councillors were worried about the impact of home working and other potential changes on staff.

Cllr Stewart Gardiner (Knutsford, Con) asked: “Have we noted any specific areas of the council work where the flexible approach to working has been harmful? For instance, have we recognised there being a problem with staff morale, or with mental health issues or with even productivity?”

Cllr Rod Fletcher (Alsager, Lib Dem) said: “Working from home is welcomed by a great number of our staff, but also some do want to get into the office.

“Some of our staff may have worked with their colleagues for years and they’re not just colleagues they’re friends.
They want to see them, so I think we do need to take that into account.

“We also need to take into account the conditions of the household of our staff. They may have a lot of young children… they might live in a small house, the IT might be difficult.”

Cllr Jill Rhodes (Crewe, Lab) said it is time for the council to look at different ways of working but stressed: “That way of working has got to be done in a way that is sustainable and meets the needs of our staff and our residents and that isn’t something that’s going to be achieved overnight, that is something that needs careful consideration.”

Chief executive Lorraine O’Donnell told the meeting the council had carried out a survey with staff which ‘spelled out things that people saw positively about the flexible working but also negatively too’.

“And we did ask in the last Pulse [staff] survey whether people felt able to fully support customers, and that is why we’re taking that on board in terms of this next phase of getting people back into a new form of working, so we address the issues that we know are there, as well as building on the positives too,” she said.

Cheshire East and their contractors, make up one of the biggest workforces in Congleton.

To learn more about Congleton's Cheshire East Councillors, please click here.

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