Councillors demand end to remote working for staff
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A group of independent councillors in Flintshire have demanded that council staff should return to their workplace for four days a week.
It follows complaints that politicians and residents have struggled to communicate with workers since the Covid pandemic saw some forced to work remotely due to lockdown restrictions.
Flintshire Council said flexible working arrangements have helped it to recruit and retain employees, as well as reducing office costs, mileage claims and carbon emissions.
However, members of the 25-strong independent opposition group on the local authority have submitted a motion calling for staff who have been working from home to return to the office.
With Covid restrictions now lifted in Wales, they have also insisted that councillors should attend meetings in person after the council switched to remote meetings during the pandemic.
The motion signed by group leader Bernie Attridge and four of his colleagues states: “We call upon Flintshire County Council to return all employees who have been working from home during the pandemic back to the workplace for a minimum of four days of the working week, including all meetings and committees of the council – let’s lead by example.
“Communication has been very difficult for both members of the council and also members of the public.
“We must regain better communication. There are no Covid restrictions in place.”
The authority is seeking to resist the request, which will be discussed at a meeting next week, after 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 involved in areas such as social services, education and bin collections were unable to work remotely.
He said only around 15 per cent of its total workforce was 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.
“Vacancy rates within the council will affect telephone cover, ease of access and the capacity for employees to return calls.”
He said there were already measures in place for councillors to escalate communication problems, with hybrid committee meetings also being trialled.
Politicians have been asked to support an alternative recommendation that employees should work from the location that suits their role best and that hybrid working should continue.
The motion will be discussed at a full council meeting being held next Tuesday.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.