Concerns expressed around plans to relocate Herts County Council staff

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The proposals stem from the county council’s move towards ‘hybrid’ working – which means on a typical day four out of every five desks at County Hall now stand empty

CONCERNS have been raised around proposals to move county council staff from County Hall to offices in Stevenage.

The proposals stem from the county council’s move towards ‘hybrid’ working – which means on a typical day four out of every five desks at County Hall now stand empty.

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And they suggest that the relocation of staff could cut council costs by up to £3m a year, improve sustainability and provide staff with ‘a thriving and magnetic workplace’.

Hertfordshire County Council's County HallHertfordshire County Council's County Hall
Hertfordshire County Council's County Hall

But – despite backing the plans overall – at a meeting of the resources and performance cabinet panel, on Thursday (July 6) there were some councillors who expressed concerns.

Reflecting on the move towards hybrid working, Conservative Cllr Peter Hebden suggested that working from home too much was not good for mental health or efficiency.

And he pointed to the need for employees to have contact with colleagues, as well as the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other.

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He also suggested that if people had to start looking at the availability of desks before coming into the office it could put them off.

And he suggested that ‘the only benefit’ of selling-off parts of the County Hall site would be for the revenue.

The council’s plans make it clear that the Grade II listed frontage of County Hall – including the council chamber – would remain as part of a civic and democratic hub.

But Cllr Hebden was among those who said they would like a clearer idea of what was going to happen to County Hall.

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Also expressing concerns was Conservative Cll Ken Crofton who suggested they should not be moving out of County Hall until they had found a use for it.

He also suggested the council’s continuing move towards hybrid working was ‘out of step’ with private industry.

And pointing to a council survey, he suggested that if you asked staff if they wanted to work from home – ‘where they could walk the dog twice a day and collect the children from school’ – or come in and do a days work, there was only going to be one answer.

But Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul de Kort countered that view – saying that it sent an ‘unfortunate’ message.

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And arguing that the council was going against the trend in the private sector, he pointed to reports that HBSC plan to move out of Canary Wharf – because they no longer needed the space for staff.

Earlier in the meeting Cllr de Kort had described the move out of county Hall -with current levels of occupancy – as ‘a no-brainer’.

However he did express some concern that council meetings would still continue at County Hall – taking away the opportunity for councillors to catch-up with staff, who would then be based in Stevenage.

And he suggested that the council’s cabinet panel meetings were also moved to Stevenage.

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He also asked whether the site should be marketed to include the Grade II listed frontage in order to increase interest.

At the meeting Liberal Democrat Cllr Tim Williams said he felt ‘generally positive’ about the plan.

He said hybrid working was now ‘modern day life’, but did also have concerns about the separation of democratic functions.

Meanwhile Labour Cllr Ian Albert said that while he was overall supportive, the devil was in the detail.

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The plans will be considered by a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday (July 10).

And if agreed the relocation of staff could begin as early as September – taking an estimated two years to complete.

The Grade II listed frontage of the County Hall building would remain in use as a civic and democratic hub, accordig to the proposals.

And council officers would then look at ‘future options’ for the remainder of the Hertford site.

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According to the proposals the cost of refurbishing County Hall to meet the needs of ‘new ways of working’ would be as much as £48m.

And they say basing staff from County Hall at existing county council offices in Stevenage could cut costs by £3m a year.

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