Inside council’s £780,000 refurbished office
- Credit: Submitted
These are pictures of Breckland District Council’s £780,000 refurbishment to the first floor of its headquarters - which the council was concerned could damage its reputation.
The refurbishments were carried out to enable agile working, the council said, and a council spokesperson said no significant money had before been spent on the office space since the council moved there in 2003, so renovations were overdue.
The photos, supplied to this newspaper by a source, show how the different parts of the new office space in Elizabeth House in Dereham are colour-coded into different zones, right down to colourful rectangles in the carpeting.
Various kinds of office furniture can be seen in the photos, including high-backed booth-style sofas, and a circle of pouffes around a small table. The furniture contributed £160,000 to the total cost.
The council purchased the refurbishment earlier this year through a contract and therefore do not have receipts for the individual items.
In a report published in 2019, Breckland executive member for property and projects Paul Hewett warned: “There is a potential reputational risk if people perceive the council to be spending money on itself and its staff instead of prioritising frontline services.
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“It is therefore important to help people to understand the rationale of the project and the benefits it will ultimately bring to residents in the longer term (e.g. more efficient staff and council, potential service hub, greater income generated at the office asset).”
Mr Hewett said last week that the refurbishments “will help council staff to work in more efficient, modern ways and, ultimately, deliver enhanced services to our residents".
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He said the changes were delivered during the last lockdown, avoiding unnecessary disruption to services, and that the new office design is much more task-focused, with different areas supporting different kinds of work.
“For example, we have created a ‘quiet zone’ where staff can focus on complex casework or reports, while the ‘collaboration zone’ brings together colleagues from different teams to discuss new services or creatively challenge our existing processes so they can be refined and improved for our residents.”
Mr Hewett added: “We can now accommodate staff who used to work downstairs on our first floor. This releases much of our ground floor space, cutting our running costs while generating new rental income for the council, keeping budget pressures off our residents.
Addressing the cost, he said: “We are always mindful of using taxpayer’s money carefully – though this refurbishment work represents less than 1pc of the council’s annual budget – and we are confident that residents will reap the rewards of a greatly-modernised, more efficient council for years to come.”
Councillors of every party on the council - Conservative, Labour, Green and independent - voted in 2019 in favour of releasing £800,000 for the refurbishment, and four councillors were absent from the vote.
The only member to have voted against was Green councillor Timothy Birt.
In comments this week, Mr Birt said: “I was concerned that members were, yet again, being asked to vote on something in which the detail was unknown or obscured.
“There was an enthusiastic presentation informing us how quiet the new air conditioning would be in the council chamber and how wonderful 'agile working' would be, but nothing of substance.
“I had clear reservations about the IT provision which is why I voted against the proposal to spend £800,000.
“I repeatedly asked to see the WorkSmart 20:20 project plan and was ignored or refused on multiple occasions.
“Eventually, after many, many months of repeated requests I was provided with a simple spreadsheet forming the most superficial project timeline, but nothing like the detail required to comment properly, or develop an informed view.
“Since it took until May 2021 it was far too late, as everything was either done or in process.
“Why would Breckland's senior officers be so reticent about disclosing details of their plan?” he asked.