Coun­cil makes staff work from home on Fri­days to save money

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Jack Hardy

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.

The chef and model Emma Thynn, Vis­count­ess Wey­mouth, at­tends a party to cel­e­brate Ed­ward En­nin­ful’s first year as ed­i­torin-chief of British Vogue. The event was held at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery with guests in­clud­ing Idris Elba and Kate Moss.

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