Councillors Ditch Chief Exec’s Office Plans

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Councillors have given a resounding ‘no’ to the Council Chief Executive Theo Leisjer’s plans to redevelop the authority’s office space.

All elected members present, except two, voted against the proposal. Chairman Amanda Martin and Cllr Steve Sims abstained.

Theo presented his report at last night’s Full Council meeting with the caveat that it wasn’t a final version but “drawing a line in the sand so members could see the direction of travel.

The £200,000 plan would see open plan office space with 13 new desks being created in the Town Hall and Old Wesleyan Chapel. Staff would also be moved from Carn Thomas.

Theo said there would actually be eight desks to every ten members of staff to allow ‘hot desking’ where some workspaces are shared by several workers.

Extra data sent to members showed that savings on running costs for Porthmellon and Carn Thomas, as well as more energy efficient hearting and lighting, could allow the Council to recoup the cost in 4 to 5 years.

And Theo said both the Chapel and Town Hall would need considerable repairs in the coming years anyway.

But councillors lined up to criticise the lack of financial detail in the report and express their concern for staff.

Cllr Andy Guy questioned the £200,000 cost and why 65% of this was being spent on new heating and lighting. He said this seemed like “an extreme amount of money.”

Cllr James Francis agreed, saying the figure was “exorbitant.”

Cllr Gordon Bilsborough criticised the lack of detail in the senior officer’s report saying funding the scheme in the present climate could leave the council very vulnerable.

But Cllr Fran Grottick went further. She said the report was “disrespectful” to councillors and asked why they hadn’t been given the figures with sufficient time to study them and make a decision.

Cllr Christine Savill said she’d received two different sets of financial information, one presented as an addition to the report and one sent by the Council’s Legal Department last week, and she said there were significant differences in the two. “Which is correct?” she asked.

But Christine also had concerns about the confidentiality problems of moving Children’s Services staff from Carn Thomas to open plan office. And by law, families using the site would need to be consulted.

During his introduction, Mr Leisjer said staff had been consulted extensively over the changes.

But Fran questioned this, asking if people can be honest when they know it’s a proposal that officers want to see moving forward and at a time when their own job security is in doubt.

She felt the report was “slanted” towards a particular view and highlighted a passage, which said staff would be engaged “to reduce resistance and anxiety.”

She said it was clear staff had concerns but it “wasn’t being spelt out in an honest and straightforward fashion.”

Cllr David Pearson had done his own research on open plan offices. He said there were higher levels of stress, and high blood pressure and increased staff turn over.

Gordon recommended rejecting the proposal, rather than asking the officers to bring it back to a future meeting.

He said it needed more than just tweaking and the majority of members agreed, voting to reject the project.

It’s unclear where senior management will go back with their plan after its defeat. But any islander concerned by Cllr Marian Bennett’s recent allegation that the authority has become officer-led probably won’t have that worry after last night’s meeting.

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