“If you ask a child if he wants to go to school or stay at home, the child will want to stay at home,” a former council leader has said as councillors question the merits of a Ceredigion County Council push to keep a hybrid working model.
Members of the council’s, corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee discussed plans on Wednesday, 19 July to make permanent a trial where county council staff will be allowed to continue to work from home.
The controversial plans, a holdover from the pandemic, were criticised by a handful of councillors, who said that residents were “up in arms” and finding it increasingly difficult to get responses from the council.
I don’t think you can effectively and successfully manage services in a hybrid approach.
Cllr Keith Evans
While a survey of staff showed an overwhelming positive response to carrying on working from home following a year-long trial, former council leader Keith Evans, who represents Llandysul South, told the meeting he was “not a huge fan of hybrid working”.
“If you ask a child if he wants to go to school or stay at home the child will want to stay at home,” he said. “It didn’t come as a shock to me that staff wanting to work at home.
“I don’t think you can effectively and successfully manage services in a hybrid approach.
“Facilities for the public are worsening, and not enough attention is being given to people’s views. People prefer to meet face to face.
“I’m hearing from community councils that emails are being sent and not being replied to.
“If staff are more productive, these emails should be responded to.
“The feedback we are receiving from staff is not in any way the same as we are receiving from the public.
of desks are used daily on average, according to council data
“The lack of response to the public via emails and phone puts the council in a bad light.”
Llanwenog councillor Euros Davis told members that the “public are up in arms on this and businesses in my ward say they can’t run their business that way”.
“We’ve got six weeks of school holiday coming up, more children will be at home, so that is a concern,” he said. “We as councillors can’t always contact the staff so what hope does the public have?
“If they’re in the office you can see them face to face but now we can’t see them.
“My wife and two daughters have to go in to work.
“If you ask your son if he wants to go into school today he wouldn’t by choice.
“It doesn’t sit well with me.”
A senior officer has claimed that public attitudes to council staff working from home have been skewed by “unfair” and “negative” press.
The Cambrian News has been reporting on the move to hybrid working among council staff and the difficulties that have arisen for residents since its introduction during the pandemic and the subsequent decisions to carry it on after lockdowns ended.
Russell Hughes-Pickering, corporate lead officer for economy and regeneration, told a meeting of the corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, 19 July that the coverage has been “unfair”.
“The negative press is unfair – especially from one particular newspaper,” Mr Hughes-Pickering told members, “as staff are doing more through hybrid working and it has benefits.
“There are some people that want to meet with us face to face, but there needs to be a blend,“ he added.
“This is about back office staff who deliver their jobs, and do they need to sit in an office to do that?
“The articles always mention Covid.
“It’s nothing to do with Covid – it’s about the best way to deliver services for Ceredigion.”
Cllr Hugh Hughes of Borth said: “There are many positives but my concern there isn’t much of a review of customer satisfaction on this.
“I have had many calls from the public asking why they are all still working from home.
“It is about educating the public so we don’t get that feedback.”
Cllr Ann Bowen Morgan of Lampeter said: “The public tends to think that people not in the office aren’t working, and we need to show the public that the work is being achieved.”
of respondents in a CN Twitter poll said council staff should work from offices
Cllr Wyn Evans, who represents Lledrod, said that as a new member he has “found it difficult to proceed with my work as I haven’t got to know officers”.
“I can’t go to an office to have a chat with an officer,” he said. “I find that a barrier to my work.
“I don’t know the officers I should be seeing day to day.”
Council leader Cllr Bryan Davies told the meeting: “Staff are clearly happy with this way of working and will therefore be more productive.
“All we can respond to is the details in the survey.”
Cllr Davies added that the “needs of the service will always be the priority” and some roles are not suitable to hybrid working.
The permanent hybrid working policy will now go before the council’s Cabinet for a final decision in September.
What will happen to empty buildings?
Plans for what to with council buildings that are increasingly empty as staff continue to work from home will be dealt with when the new hybrid working policy is adopted, Ceredigion County Council’s leader has said.
A report put before the corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, 19 July states the council will “seek to ‘repurpose’ offices at Canolfan Rheidol in Aberystwyth and Penmorfa in Aberaeron and they could be used for healthcare, business space or even residential accommodation”.
Russell Hughes-Pickering, Ceredigion County Council’s corporate lead officer for economy and regeneration, said that at its highest point, desk capacity in council buildings were at just 63 per cent.
That high, recorded on 21 June, is way off the average – with desks averaging a 30 per cent occupancy level over the past year.
Mr Hughes-Pickering said: “What level of space do we keep to allow us room for staff wanting to use if they choose?”
Cllr Bryan Davies told the meeting: “There is a negative perception [of hybrid working] because we are doing nothing with the empty offices.
“That plan will be put in place once we finalise the hybrid working model.”