Councillors unlikely to return to chamber until New Year

Councillors will not be returning to face-to-face meetings in a council chamber, until at least the New Year.

Councillors are unlikely to be meeting in Powys County Council's chamber until next year
Councillors are unlikely to be meeting in Powys County Council's chamber until next year

Powys County Council's cabinet discussed the matter at its most recent meeting, with the authority's 'New Way of Working' (NWOW) set to see more than 1,300 work from home on a permanent basis.

Portfolio holder for corporate governance and regulatory services, Councillor Beverley Baynham said she wanted to reassure councillors that "we are working on it".

She said: “We’ve had a grant from the Welsh Government, and we’ve ordered equipment for the chamber that will enable us to have a blended way of working, so that we can have hybrid meetings when some people can be in the chamber and some from home.

“There is however, a very high demand for this equipment and it cannot be installed until early January.”

A planning meeting earlier this month saw a discussion over some councillors being unhappy that council meetings were taking place online.

At that meeting Councillor Phil Pritchard, who represents the Welshpool Castle ward, pushed for a vote by the committee on returning to meet in County Hall as he was “sick and fed up of sitting in front of a laptop for six, seven, eight hours a day".

Speaking at cabinet Council leader, Councillor Rosemarie Harris, said: “Several members have mentioned to me that it is difficult for them to even get into meetings, some of them miss County Hall.

“When they came to County Hall for a meeting, they would make sure they saw various officers to deal with issues that they have, I think some are missing that.”

She added: “I appreciate there are still risks but perhaps we can make arrangements for some of them to come back in as and when, and perhaps meet officers.”

The NWOW plan, according to the council, will build upon practices that have been adopted during the pandemic, allowing staff to regularly work from home, from council offices or agreed partner facilities that are closer to their homes, so long as it does not affect the quality of services.

The new operating model will also aim to cut the council’s impact on the environment and help it achieve its ambition to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.

Council staff are likely to fall into one of three workstyle categories in the future – 'place-based', 'on-the-go', and 'flexible'.

Nigel Brinn, director of economy and environment, said moving to the new approach would save more than £500,000 a year.

Examples of place-based workers include receptionists, library, museum, catering, and cleaning staff.

On-the-go workers are mostly out and about in the community, directly delivering services, examples include rubbish collectors, domiciliary and social care staff.

And finally, flexible workers can work from anywhere including home, office or in the community, and include legal and finance teams, housing officers and human resources staff.

The changes were approved unanimously by cabinet and will come into force next month.

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