Council plans to rent out HQ desks for extra cash

The city council's Waverley Court offices. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The city council's Waverley Court offices. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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IT was designed to save cash and make the council more efficient. Bringing different departments together, the £80 million Waverley Court was hailed as a major advance in “joined-up” working.

But now city chiefs want to raise extra cash by letting out space – which will mean council staff being relocated ­elsewhere.

The city council’s draft budget for 2015-16 proposes renting out 30 desks in Waverley Court at £5000 a year to bring in an extra £150,000. Senior Tory councillor Jeremy Balfour said he was sceptical about the plan.

“It’s a very strange way to raise money,” he said.

“Waverley Court is absolutely full and there is no space to take in people from other companies or organisations.

“If we have to move people out, where are they going to go? Surely that’s going to cost more money.

“That was the whole purpose of Waverley Court – that’s why we closed Chesser House and a lot of satellite offices – to bring people together so we could have more working across departments and it would be easier for people to talk to each other.

“To lose that would be disappointing.”

He voiced concern about a risk of confidential information. “Clearly the council deals with confidential information,” he said.

“How do we ensure individuals from these private companies or other organisations do not overhear or have access to information that would not be appropriate?”

When it opened in 2007, Waverley Court, built on what was part of the station car park, brought together 1800 staff who once occupied 20 different buildings scattered around the city centre. It now has 2300 staff based there.

The open-plan office is designed for hot-desking, with computers and phones “following” individual staff to whichever desk they happen to occupy.

John Stevenson, branch president of public services union Unison, expressed surprise at the plan to rent out space.

“There is a problem at Waverley Court because they have packed so many people into it,” he said.

“I’d be surprised if they could fit anyone else in.”

Mr Stevenson said the council “Workstyle” policy of desk sharing was already causing concern.

“It’s ten people to seven desks, all in rows like battery hens, just packing more and more people into buildings,” he said.

“People feel there is a lack of respect and a despersonalising of their workplace and a regimentation.”

A council spokesman said there would be no extra cost in relocating staff because they would go to other council buildings, such a neighbourhood offices.

He added: “Bringing in partner organisations strengthens our services to the public – working together with police, the NHS and partner organisations means it is easier to share information, hold meetings and take ­decisions.”