Council downsize plans attacked over lack of cost details

Endeavour House

Lack of detailed costs have seen plans to downsize council offices at Endeavour House called in - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Six councillors are calling for more details about the costs to two Suffolk authorities of downsizing as more staff work from home.

The cabinets at Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils, which share a workforce, have agreed to hand back one of their two floors at Endeavour House in Ipswich as hybrid working continues post-Covid.

That will deliver savings of £338,000 for each council, according to reports, with a cost of £250,000 each to reconfigure the space.

But six Babergh councillors – four Conservatives, one Independent and one Green – have formally challenged the decision through the ‘call-in’ procedure, due to be reviewed at a scrutiny committee meeting on Monday.

They say there was “no breakdown of how £250,000 will be spent”.

Michael Holt

Michael Holt, Conservative councillor for Chadacre and cabinet member for economic growth at Babergh District Council - Credit: Babergh District Council

In their written challenge, they added: “There should be an opportunity to examine, debate and vote on the capital costs once these details are available.

“This is a key decision as proposed expenditure is over £150,000. To fully comply with our constitution councillors must fully consider all the circumstances – this has not happened.”

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Babergh’s Conservative/Independent/Liberal Democrat coalition cabinet voted by seven votes to three for the downsizing, while Mid Suffolk’s Conservative and Independent administration voted unanimously for the proposals.

A staff survey indicated 70% felt they would be most productive working part of the week from home and part in the office.

Liberal Democrat cabinet member for assets and investments, David Busby said: “We can reduce our overall floorspace in Endeavour House and use these savings to deliver a truly collaborative and inspiring workspace, while also delivering a net saving of approximately £338,000 per council and reducing our impact on the environment by reducing travel.

“This project will deliver a creative, flexible working space for staff and councillors as we return for more face-to-face working.”

But Conservative cabinet member for economic growth Michael Holt said he had “great concerns” it was “going down a path that members haven’t had time to discuss or debate”.

The five-year break clause of the 10-year lease falls this year, which prompted the timing of the decision last week.