Council makes staff work from home on Fridays to save money
A CASH-STRAPPED council is believed to be the first to announce plans to close its offices every Friday and make staff work from home in an effort to stabilise finances.
Conservative-controlled Shropshire council hopes to combat a £6.8million overspend with the move, which starts on the last Friday of this month and next before going weekly in January. Schools, museums, libraries and other amenities will not be affected.
The council believes the weekly closure will reduce the cost of printing, heating and lighting. Peter Nutting, the council leader, said a spending freeze had been agreed in order to get the year’s budget under control, citing the estimated £15million bill for social care over the next year as one example of “funding we just don’t have”.
He said: “We expect to get some additional funding but it isn’t going to be anywhere near the additional £15million cost for this year alone. Spending freezes delay expenditure on things like buying new equipment. We will of course try to minimise the impact on front line services.”
Encouraging staff to “work more flexibly” did not equate to the council being “closed for business”, he insisted, adding: “We will simply be working in a different way.”
The council is monitoring how much employees print, after costs reportedly exceeded £300,000. But Alan Mosley, the Labour leader of the town council in Shrewsbury, where the county council’s headquarters is based, described the measure as a workers’ “lockout”. The GMB union, representing municipal workers, said the announcement came “out of the blue”.
The union has asked the council for an urgent meeting. “We are keen to establish what on earth they are doing here,” said Stuart Richards, a union official.
“Following the financial collapse at Northamptonshire council, we’ve seen councils adopt increasingly desperate measures to cope with the Tory Government’s austerity cuts that have seen services cut to the bone. This bizarre move by Shropshire council comes completely out of the blue.
“There has been no consultation or discussion with trade unions and no one has any idea as to what this would actually mean for staff or how it would practically work.”
The cost-cutting drive lays bare the financial difficulties facing authorities across the country. In February, Northamptonshire council said its cash reserves were depleted, while the Local Government Association warned that English councils would soon be facing funding gaps of billions of pounds.
Shropshire council, meanwhile, faces a potential overspend of £6.9million on a gross budget of £561.95million in the next financial year.
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