Council warns of ‘risk to reputation’ over £800,000 office revamp

Breckland Council Offices, Dereham. Picture: Ian Burt

Breckland Council Offices, Dereham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Councillors have voted to spend £800,000 on revamping their own office headquarters - despite a warning that it may damage their reputation.

Plans to overhaul Breckland Council's Dereham headquarters were approved at a full council meeting on Thursday, October 31.

The project is intended to modernise the offices, increase efficiency and "attract talent" - but councillors were warned the costs could pose a risk to the council's reputation.

A report on the proposals stated: "There could be potential negative reaction to investment by the council on its own building.

"There is potential reputational risk if people perceive the council to be spending money on itself and its staff instead of prioritising frontline services."

Plans for the scheme, which will be paid for from the growth and investment reserve fund, include:

- Introducing an "agile and flexible working" policy

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- Moving towards a digital workforce, hotdesking, and ICT system upgrades

- Supplying staff with mobile phones

- Upgrading the council's data storage systems

- And the creation of new meeting rooms and a staff room on the Walpole Loke premises

Paul Hewett, executive member for assets and contracts, told the council: "We require a change in culture for officers and us in particular.

"It requires changes in behaviour for how we communicate with our officers and how officers communicate with the public."

And Mr Hewett, Conservative member for Shipdham and Scarning, said the project, titled WorkSmart 20:20, "represents an investment in our council, our staff and us as councillors to ensure we are fit for the future".

He added: "It makes our current building work better for us."

But Green councillor, Timothy Birt, queried the plans, and said: "There's much to like and it's a step forward but in light of the IT issues we've had in the last 24 hours it might be worth stepping back in case there are any implications before we invest £800,000."

And Bill Borrett, Conservative member for Upper Wensum ward, told Mr Birt, who represents Saham Toney, that his comments should be directed to the steering group set up for the project.

The revamp is expected to be completed by July 2020, with the works on the offices set to begin in December 2019.