Conwy: ‘There’s nobody in the office’

CONWY has been criticised by a concerned councillor for its ‘empty buildings, poor phone service and lack of financial assessment’ of its home-working policies.

The council’s finance and resource committee were considering a revised HR report on its workwise policy on hybrid and home working.

Members of the committee were discussing Conwy’s flexible working policy, flexitime policy, permanent home working policy and policies relating to staff performance.

This follows Conwy’s Workwise 2020 policy being adapted to fit the needs of the pandemic when staff had to work from home.

Several amendments have since been made to the policy, including the time ‘bandwidths’ being adjusted allowing staff greater flexibility to work, and this needs official agreement.

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Councillors heard how many jobs would now be hybrid by default, incorporating both home and office working, despite government guidance allowing staff to return to the office.

Officers said staff were being encouraged to return to the office from this month.

But one concerned councillor said both Bodlondeb and Conwy’s £58m state-of-the-art Coed Pella office were empty.

Cllr Paul Edwin Luckock commented: “I suspect I’m not going to be very popular for what I’m just going to say.

“The nature of our corporate work is that we are running a relationship-building organisation, relationships most importantly with our citizens and residents.

“When I go to Bodlondeb and I see the big sign on the door, saying ‘this office is closed until further notice’, I feel uncomfortable. When I went to Coed Pella at the end of last month, there was a handful of people in there.

“I’d love to work in an office like this. It is fantastic, but there is nobody there. And I just thought this is crazy. The vision was that we were building Coed Pella at a great cost to regenerate Colwyn Bay, but there is nobody there.”

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He added: “It doesn’t feel right for me.”

HR officer Fran Lewis responded.

“I’d just like to reassure Cllr Paul that we have a corporate risk around hybrid working since we are going to be monitoring how it goes exactly for this reason that we ensure that this way of working, which we have delivered successfully over the last two years, does not have a detrimental impact on the important culture of Conwy,” she said.

“I should also point out that today is the first day we have moved into the new way of hybrid working, and therefore staff are being actively encouraged to return to the office. Staff don’t need to book (rooms or desks), and we have less restrictions in the meeting rooms so we can have those in-person meetings that will see more activity in our offices.”

But Cllr Luckock remained unsatisfied.

“I would be more reassured if there was more customer assessment, and again, in this report, there is no financial assessment on what impacts this is going to have. If it is going to improve recruitment, let’s financially assess how it is going to improve recruitment. If it’s going to improve productivity, let’s financially assess it,” he said.

“When I rang the council, there was (he was told) constant ‘that person is not online now – can you ring back?’ I’m able to cope. But it’s not good for the 80 or 90-year-old person or the desperate mother or father in a desperate scrape in relation to their children. And that’s the feedback I’m getting, and I want to make sure it’s not hidden just because it’s uncomfortable to hear it. And the lack of financial assessment worries me. We are going into this, I think, blindly, and we don’t know the outcomes.”

Conwy’s head of law and governance Rhun ap Gareth said the committee was only considering specific HR policies in regard to the framework of hybrid working – and not the matter of hybrid working in general.

Leader Charlie McCoubrey said the matter was a balancing act, considering the council’s carbon footprint, returning to the office, the regeneration of Colwyn Bay and providing residents with face-to-face services.

Cllr John Roberts proposed that the committee backed the report, which was seconded by Cllr Anne McCaffrey. The report will now be considered by cabinet.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno