Shropshire Council could sell off Shirehall as staff get used to home working
Shropshire Council could sell off its headquarters in Shrewsbury in favour of a smaller site in the town centre after the pandemic opened up the prospect of more home working.
Council leader Peter Nutting told cabinet members that all options were on the table in plans for how the council could emerge from the crisis, including greater emphasis on remote working.
Councillor Nutting also said he wanted to see council services spread more evenly across the county, but added that nothing had been decided yet.
A report considered by the authority’s cabinet members said some of the measures brought in during the lockdown could be made permanent as the council attempts to balance its books in the wake of the crisis.
Some of the key points of focus were identified as, “home working for staff on a more permanent, albeit not full-time, basis”, and “utilising a single, more condensed council site in Shrewsbury town centre”.
The future of Shirehall has been the subject of speculation for some time with the authority trying a number of measures to increase the income on the building – including adding solar panels to its roof.
Discussions have also taken place over the police moving some staff to the site.
In December 2018 councillors signed off a proposed £24 million refurbishment of the building, which the council said was “old fashioned” and “unwelcoming”, but the project stalled last year due to budget pressures.
Councillor David Vasmer, who represents Underdale, said the report made it “clear” that the council was considering the sale of Shirehall.
The report said it was important to build on changes brought about by the pandemic to “truly transform the long term working practices”.
Councillor Nutting said the authority was exploring how services could be moved away from Shirehall.
“We are reviewing everything we do as a council and we are expecting to change the way we work,” said Councillor Nutting.
“We have been a very centralised council in the Shirehall and we are actually actively considering, especially in view of that’s gone on in the last three months, just how much we can diversify and have officers working from home and whether some meetings can carry on in this (remote) format.
“There will have to be meetings where we all get together, either in Shirehall or somewhere similar, but we do think as a council we will be changing the way we work.
“I would like to see us have more of a presence in the market towns and have some departments working more remotely.
“I think there are all sorts of options in the future and I would not state that we are going to do one thing or another.
“It is very much a matter of thinking about how we go forwards as a council.
“I am confident we are getting some ideas together which will make us a better council, because at the moment I do find this council has an old county council mentality and I have been trying to change that.
“I am confident that will now change as we go forward and it will be one of the remits for a new chief executive to actually make change happen within the council so that we do work differently as we go forward – and I think that will produce savings to the council.”
Councillor Steve Charmley, portfolio holder for assets, said: “Responding to the Covid pandemic has changed how we deliver services to our residents and will inform how we work in the future.
“Our focus will be to reduce the time and cost associated with travel and journeys which are not necessary, and particularly to buildings which are carbon inefficient and expensive to operate.
“We will reduce what we spend on buildings and continue to invest in our workforce and digital infrastructure to improve our service delivery.”
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