Edinburgh council 'should keep open remote working option' rather than 'returning to normal' says deputy leader

Council staff who have been working at home during the pandemic could start returning to the office over the summer – but deputy council leader Cammy Day says people should be given the option to carry on working remotely.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 7:00 am

And he wants the council to consider continuing with online or hybrid meetings too.

Councillor Day said: "We should have a think about whether we all just pile back in or whether we have new approach to running a modern, efficient council and whether we really need people travelling from all over the city and beyond, costing them money, damaging the environment, when they can sign on to a computer and do it from home.

"I'm not suggesting we should do that all the time but I think we need not just to say 'Right, back to normal'.

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Edinburgh City Chambers Picture: Neil Hanna Photography

"We should not be rushed into this. We should think about new arrangements for council meetings – do they need to be held physically in a big old building or is there a more modern and efficient way to hold some of them?"

Since the start of the first Covid lockdown in March last year the City Chambers and Waverley Court have both been closed except for a handful of staff.

Councillor Day said a survey of staff had found mixed views about the return to the office.

"Some people are quite happy to work from home longer-term while others, just because of the lack of social interaction, are keen to get back into the office to meet their colleagues.

“I accept the pressures on people's mental health and wellbeing – that needs to be a serious consideration. For other staff it has helped them balance care responsibilitites and manage their home life more effectively.”

He said a report on the issue was expected in May or June, envisaging the return of staff over the summer period. But he said: “We need to be open minded. I don’t think we should insist everybody returns to their desks as the norm.”

He suggested some staff might prefer to work from local offices to cut down on commuting.

“Could they become new work-based hubs? That would link into proposals for 20-minute neighbourhoods. If we're saying that should be what the city aspires to, why don’t we start by saying our own staff don't have to travel across the city when they could plug their laptop in and work from home or a local office or even their library or community centre as their workspace?”

And he questioned how viable it was to resume council meetings in person, saying there was no way that 63 councillors plus officials would fit in the main chamber with social distancing.

“I don’t think we should be rushing back to open up the chambers to get everybody back to something we've done for the last 100 years. We could look at a hybrid model or continue to do it virtually.

"We cannot fit the full council into that building with social distancing – you're almost sitting in someone's lap we're that close to each other.”

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