PLANS to modernise the way Thurrock Council works were praised by Cllr Val Morris-Cook but questioned by the Tories.
Cllr Morris-Cook said: “Numerous changes have to be made to the Civic Offices here in Grays if we are going to have the room to make this the hub for all our staff.
“That investment will, in turn, free up buildings and sites around the borough for us to be able to sell, lease or otherwise use to secure income.
“The first point to make is that although a hundred or so people will be moving to the Civic Offices, all the people already working there – around 1,100 – will see their workplace change. Everybody who uses a council desk, phone and computer will see their working practices change.”
Cllr Morris-Cook added: “The council is simply doing what forward-thinking private business has already done; making it easier for staff to work flexibly, at home, from the office, from somebody else’s home or wherever.
“It’s easier for the staff themselves and it makes it easier for local people to contact us, and it means people can actually talk tyo one another.
“These proposals will move us a long way forward and they achieve a range of savings that are significantly more than the costs, including a one-off saving of around £4 million in the first year and then around £1.4 million per year afterwards.
“This scheme will save money, improve working conditions and make the council’s interactions with the public easier, better and further.”
She explained that the disposal of the Culver Centre in South Ockendon as well as other buildings will provide the council with capital receipts and reduced running costs.
“More income will come from leasing a whole single floor of the Civic Offices – the floor plans themselves are flexible and are designed to adapt to future changes, including moving additional staff into the buildings as required it’s not just the immediate future, we need something that is future proof as well,” she said.
Cllr Morris-Cook concluded: “Obviously this is only part of the transformation programme, a process that will see the way the council works literally ‘transform’ over the coming few years.
“The council has to make savings and this programme of changing and modernising working practices is an integral part of our approach, reducing the pain of being forced to actually cut services and jobs while at the same time providing opportunities for local people to change and improve the way they use those same services.”
But the Tories have their reservations.
Conservative spokesman for Central Services Cllr Tunde Ojetola said “While we all appreciate that flexible working is the way forward, the current plan does not provide value for money. In total an additional 100 staff will move into the Civic Offices, at the cost of £3.75m – approximately £37,500 per person.
“Amazingly when asked about the reality of getting the savings, the portfolio holder went on a diatribe about minute savings realised by putting off computer monitors and temperature controls. The reality is that £3.4m of the proposed savings are speculative. As we saw, the previous Hogg Lane proposal failed due to lack interest, and the price of the sale of the Culvert Centre is uncertain.
“Instead of promoting expensive schemes with uncertain returns, the administration needs to have a re-think of the whole strategy instead of running head first into an ill-thought out programme.”