Staff to do job at home as 21 social work offices close

The lease Chesser House will terminate in June 2014
The lease Chesser House will terminate in June 2014
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A TOTAL of 21 social work centres and offices are to be shut down by the city council, with thousands of staff allowed to work from home in a bid to save £18 million.

The city council has outlined a series of offices that it intends to close within the next four years, including Chesser House and Westwood House in Gorgie, the advice shop on South Bridge and 12 social work centres across the city.

Staff would then either be relocated to another council property, “hot desk” within council offices or work from their own homes or any location that has wireless internet access.

Around 2000 laptops are to be bought by council chiefs in order to allow staff to start the new “flexible working” as part of a £2.5m investment.

It means that thousands of council workers could spend some shifts working anywhere from libraries and internet cafes to Burger King and Starbucks.

The closures and changes to working practices will affect around 5700 staff – with around two in three of those involved expected to no longer have a fixed desk.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, said: “This is about much more than simply replacing computers or saving on building costs. It genuinely marks a step towards transforming how the council operates now and in years to come. New technology offers us the chance to change how our staff work and the quality of services we provide.

“If we can harness the opportunities provided by IT, that will help us both become a better employer for a modern workforce and meet our customers’ expectations as they develop.”

Under the proposals, 3334 staff would convert to “flexible working”, which will mean working from a variety of locations, including council offices, their own home or public places.

Around 2000 staff would continue to have a fixed desk but may be relocated, while 75 would become permanent home workers. Another 182 would be “mobile workers” who spend most of their time in the community and do not need much access to office locations, while 39 would work from redesigned shared office spaces.

An outline business case for the changes has shown that £31.6m of benefits can be found over 10 years, as well as £13.5m of costs – leaving the total “profit” from the changes at £18.1m.

The cost of the project will exceed savings for three years, before the first savings are achieved in 2014-15.

Details of the radical changes were due to be announced in a council report set to be published today.

The business case shows that the council will have to invest £2.5m over the period 2011-15 to support the delivery of the programme, including the cost of new IT systems.

David Jack, acting director of corporate services at the city council, said: “The programme offers the potential for staff to benefit from the adoption of a modern and flexible approach to work enabling a more productive and efficient organisation.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com