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West Berkshire Council Timelord flexible working and office plans criticised

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PROPOSALS to close West Berkshire Council offices in Newbury and move staff to flexible working models have been criticised.

As reported in the Newbury Weekly News, the council is proposing to shut its offices at West Street House and West Point House and move the 350 staff to join around 500 at its Market Street offices.

Staff will switch to one of three new working systems under the Timelord2 project, home, office or community, and will be given a £150 working from home allowance.

West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929860)
West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929860)

The council said there had been "extensive internal consultation" which ran for six weeks from February 15.

Responses ranged from supporting the principle of having one office and more flexibility, to the need for confidential meeting space and issues regarding allowances and equipment purchasing.

Responding to the proposals union UNISON West Berkshire said: “Staff responses to the council’s Timelord 2 plans have been overwhelmingly negative.

West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929825)
West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929825)

“There are undeniably advantages to increased flexible working, but the proposals put forward by West Berkshire are sorely lacking.

“The council is trying to shift costs for IT and other essential equipment onto the staff themselves and there are serious concerns over the number of people being crammed into the Market Street office.

“Changes to staff contracts haven’t gone through a proper consultation process and I am concerned about the impact the changes will have on the quality of services being provided to residents.

“These proposals have been rushed and people simply haven’t been listened to. The council needs to take a breath, listen to legitimate concerns being raised by staff and amend its plans.”

Lee Dillon (46611249)
Lee Dillon (46611249)

The proposals were approved by the council's executive at a meeting last week.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition Lee Dillon (Thatcham West) said: "None of this refers to our residents or the quality of services they will receive. It talks about efficiency, and then it talks about staff, and, actually, the reason we are here is to provide services. We think it needs some more focus there."

He also asked about confidentiality of residents details, some of whom would be vulnerable.

West Berkshire Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) (46855967)
West Berkshire Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) (46855967)

Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) said a combination of staff training and personal responsibility would be needed.

She said: "Those systems have been tested to the very limit over the last 15 to 18 months because we have been forced into a situation where we have all had to work from home."

Mrs Doherty said the council needed to find a good working hybrid model following the pandemic and that other councils were having the same discussions.

West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929857)
West Street Council Offices .Ref: 27-2021... (48929857)

She said: "They are being proactive and are trying to ensure that their staff have flexibility, which is really what Timelord2 is about and certainty.

"Staff need to know what's happening in the future. We can't just pause while we wait for new interim arrangements to come in."

The refurbishment of the Market Street Offices and IT costs to meet the requirements is estimated to be around £691,000. Residual savings are expected to be approximately £200,000.

The new working arrangements will also reduce the council's carbon footprint by 6.3 per cent, equating to savings of around 740 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The council will promote active travel schemes among staff and some will no longer qualify for free parking.

Staff who joined prior to 2007 or who are Essential Car User Status will retain this benefit

Those with a disability will be eligible for free parking and will be given preference to the new multi-storey car park adjacent to the Market Street offices.

The council will review the proposals' effectiveness six months after implementation.

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