Fears over 'colossal' civic offices spendBy Jon Nurse
March 04, 2013
‘Colossal' spending on the borough council’s Shute End offices was defended by claims it will lead to long-term savings.
As the council budget is squeezed to find £6 million of savings, more than £500,000 is being spent around the council offices.
The main reception will be remodelled at a cost of £200,000, while £330,000 will be spent on the Smart Moves scheme.
Graham Ebers, strategic director of resources, said: “There are compelling business grounds for spending £500,000 one-off to generate ongoing benefit.
“The plan is to save well in excess of £500,000 a year and gain sizable capital receipts in the context of productivity increasing and being more mobile.”
The Smart Moves scheme is designed to allow more workstations to be shared and encourage staff to work away from the office.
Mr Ebers added: “We are not the only organisation to do Smart Working but we are one of the most aggressive from two (people) to one (desk) – we are being quite ambitious.”
Councillor Prue Bray, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, isn’t impressed by the spend.
“The council has been moving a lot of people around the building, some of which we are not sure is entirely necessary,” she said.
The majority of the spend on the Shute End reception and the Smart Moves scheme comes from the 2012-13 capital budget, with the remainder coming from existing maintenance budgets.
Mr Ebers said the change to the reception would make the area a single point of contact for customers, doing away with the need for many receptions across the building, however Cllr Bray points to another reason for the investment.
She said: “The spend on the reception is only a consequence of the town centre regeneration and a new road passing through to Shute End.
“It would no longer be possible to have people coming in the main entrance (from the car park) because there would be a road there. That necessitates an awful lot of changes inside the building and costs a lot of money.”
An additional £250,000 is being spent on the council’s move from offices at the Old Forge in Peach Street. Cllr Bray said: “It was only in 2008 that they spent money on the Old Forge and now they are spending money bringing the people back.
“I don’t understand that at all. It’s a colossal amount of money.
“They have made so many of these decisions in the past, I wonder if they will need to reorganise themselves again in the future.”
More than 80 staff will be leaving the Old Forge in the spring, freeing the council from its significant portion of the building’s £500,000 lease.
Mr Ebers added: “As we decant staff into other properties, we save on business rates, heating and lighting to the tune of £50,000.”
Smart Moves has been developed over the past two years and Mr Ebers said he has seen sickness rates halve as people have been able to work from home.