Telford & Wrekin Council's Finance and HR director Ken Clarke told councillors it was “likely most people will have a mix” of on-site and remote work, and said the enforced changes brought in to reduce the spread of Covid-19 presented an “opportunity”.
He was speaking to the Business and Finance Scrutiny Committee about the council’s budget for next year and medium-term financial strategy until 2025.
A mid-year budget review by Mr Clarke and Corporate Finance Manager Pauline Harris said the council had spent £288,000 ensuring its buildings were Covid-safe, and his own Service and Financial Planning Report said reduced use of buildings will bring environmental benefits from lower energy use and travelling.
Committee member Eric Carter said: “We’ve currently got the third lockdown scheme. There is no sure date for when that is going to change.
“But, across the country – and I’ve got this from the LGA [Local Government Association] – things are going to drastically change even when we go back to normal about people attending offices.
“Are there thoughts about how the council might deal with this in the fact that we’ve got Darby House, we’ve got Addenbrooke and Granville?”
Addenbrooke House, in central Telford, is the authority’s head office. Some local authority services are based in neighbouring Darby House, while Granville House, in Donnington Wood, is the highways, grounds and cleansing base.
Councillor Carter asked: “Is there going to be the same necessity or need for those people to all come back to the office or will they still be working from home?”
Mr Clarke said: “What we’re doing at the moment is looking through every job that is office-based and looking at, in the future, what we think is appropriate for those jobs.
“Some people will be 100 per cent based at home – for example, I already have people in the revenues team who are, even before the pandemic, and it might be that a lot more of that team are based 100 per cent from home in the future, because they are well able to do their jobs from home. They’ve got a suitable set-up.
“Other jobs – if you’re a receptionist, for example – are difficult to do from home, so we’re saying those people will have to be office-based.
“We’re looking at every job on an individual basis, but it’s likely most people will have a mix of working in the office and also at home, going forward. So we won’t be going back to having the same kind of arrangements we had before the pandemic.
“It is an opportunity. It has actually worked really well for people, both from a personal perspective but also in terms of getting the work done.
“The savings proposals I mentioned do include some assumptions around that, and reducing our need for accommodation.”
Mr Clarke’s budget report says £5.9 million worth of additional revenue savings need to be made in 2021-22, rising to £7.1 million the following year.
“Service restructures, staff savings and capitalisation” is the largest category, accounting for £1.3 million, while mileage and travel savings total £250,000 and “various other efficiencies” total nearly £639,000.