Councils to cut size of offices as more staff work from home

Suffolk County Council takes the lion's share of bills that will be dropping on to doorsteps later

Babergh and Mid Suffolk are set to reduce their floorspace in Endeavour House - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Two Suffolk councils are set to significantly reduce their floorspace in their head offices, but are opting not to return their authorities to the districts.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk share a workforce, and in late 2017 closed their district offices in Hadleigh and Needham Market to use part of Ipswich’s Endeavour House, the HQ of Suffolk County Council.

That was part of cost-cutting measures but divided opinion with some councillors raising concerns over not being in their districts to serve communities best.

Papers published for the two councils’ cabinet meetings next week has revealed that the authorities are being recommended to reconfigure their Endeavour House space so they can hand back one floorplate in time for the 2022 five-year break clause on the 10-year lease.

The report says that working practices have changed since the first Covid-19 lockdown which meant more agile working is now possible.

A spokesperson for the two councils said: “This project isn’t simply about changing our office around. ​It’s about our culture, and the environment, tools, systems and policies we need in future in order to meet the needs of our employees, and deliver the most effective and efficient services for our residents.

“As a shared workforce we have already gone some way in embracing flexible, agile working which put us in good stead to continue providing essential services to our residents while working remotely during the pandemic.

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“Now, in common with many private and public sector employers, we’re looking at how we can create a fit-for-purpose workspace to suit a more hybrid way of working.

“The proposal has been shaped by staff feedback, with our workforce telling us they don’t want, or need, to attend the workplace every day, but still need a physical office so they can collaborate with colleagues."

Sarah Mansel, Green councillor for Elmswell and Woolpit at Mid Suffolk District Council

Sarah Mansel, Green councillor for Elmswell and Woolpit at Mid Suffolk District Council - Credit: WENDY TURNER

Published figures indicate it would deliver savings of £676,000 (£338,000 for each council).

The opposition Green and Liberal Democrat group at Mid Suffolk raised concerns at the time of the original move, and have called for a “far more wide-ranging review to take account of both rapidly-expanded home working and the need for a better location, actually within the districts we are serving”.

The group said a new waste and recycling depot in the Gateway 14 scheme could release the existing depot land close to Stowmarket rail station that could be turned into a smaller council hub.

Councillor Sarah Mansel, who was on the working group, said: “It is a pity that remaining at Endeavour House was the only option to be discussed. We are in no doubt that basing more of our services back in the district would be welcomed by our residents.”