Call for Flintshire Council staff to return to office withdrawn over ‘disgraceful emails’
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A group of independent councillors in Flintshire have withdrawn their demand for council staff to return their workplace four days per week.
Complaints were recently raised that politicians and residents were struggling to communicate with Flintshire Council workers after the Covid pandemic saw some forced to work remotely.
Members of the 25-strong independent opposition group on the local authority submitted a motion calling for staff to go back to the office at least four days per week
The motion signed by group leader Bernie Attridge and four of his colleagues also insisted that councillors should attend meetings in person following the lifting of Covid restrictions in Wales.
The issue was due to be discussed at a meeting held yesterday (Tuesday, July 26) after the council issued a lengthy response in which it defended the arrangements.
Officials said flexible working had helped the authority to recruit and retain staff, as well as reducing office costs, mileage claims and carbon emissions.
However, Cllr Attridge told the full council meeting his group had decided to remove the item from the agenda after some members received “disgraceful emails” regarding the motion.
Whilst he did not elaborate on the content of the messages, he said: “I believe a precedent has been set here today on how notices of motion are dealt with by Flintshire County Council.
“Never in my 18 years as a county councillor has such a detailed report been presented to members prior to a notice of motion being heard and understood by members.
“Secondly, I have never known a full council meeting to be postponed while group leaders discussed the notice of motion.
“Due to a one-side report being put in the public domain prior to an explanation from the signatories, it has led to some disgraceful emails being sent to some elected members.
“Due to these reasons, I withdraw the notice of motion whilst we consider our position.”
The authority had sought to resist Cllr Attridge’s request as it said remote working had delivered positive changes.
The council first established an agile working policy in 2018 to enable remote working for people in desk-based roles.
When the Covid pandemic began in 2020, lockdown restrictions made it illegal for anyone who was not a key worker to leave their house or travel.
The council’s chief executive, Neal Cockerton, said most employees providing frontline services were unable to work remotely, with only around 15 per cent of staff asked to work from home.
In a report, he said: “There are a number of benefits that derive from largely hybrid working arrangements, which enable the council to compete in an increasingly difficult jobs market.
“Hybrid working also generates monetary, carbon and time savings for the council.
“Employees value hybrid working arrangements and, in a highly competitive jobs market, the council needs to be able to retain and attract quality staff.
“The council’s ability to recruit and retain staff could be harmed by overly rigid working practices.”
He added: “The notice refers to difficulties in being able to contact staff.
“It is not specific about whether this is all employees or just employees in specific services.”
He said there were already measures in place for councillors to escalate communication problems, with hybrid committee meetings also being trialled.
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This guy looks so menacing…