Council buildings could be sold off as full-time office working scrapped for many staff

Council buildings across the region could be sold off and developed into housing as local authorities shift to new post-Covid working arrangements.

Dudley Council House
Dudley Council House

Across the Black Country councils are in the process of adopting new hybrid working models, which will see thousands of staff splitting their time between home and town halls.

Council offices were shut down at the start of the first lockdown and the majority have only started reopening to staff in recent months.

And with many staff set to never return to the office full-time, council chiefs say some buildings could become surplus to requirements and sold off to meet the region's chronic housing need.

Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said his authority was looking at a model of "hot-desking" which would see around one third of staff working from home on any given day.

"This will give us the opportunity to look at our buildings and possibly get rid of some that are not being used to turn them into housing," he added.

Sandwell Council said use of its buildings was currently being monitored in advance of developing a plan for their future use.

Sandwell Council House

A spokesperson for the authority added: "From the outset of the pandemic, a large number of council employees have been able to work remotely where their roles allow and the feedback from both staff and managers is that this has produced very positive results.

"Staff in a number of roles have been able to return to council buildings with Covid safe measures in place, including local offices and libraries.

"We also recognise there is still a need for other staff and teams to have access to office space for reasons such as supporting their health and wellbeing, accessing specialist equipment and to enable teams to work together more effectively.

"Therefore, we are in the process of designing a hybrid model of working, enabling access to office space when it is required."

Wolverhampton Council said there had been a "consistent" presence of staff at the Civic Centre since restrictions were lifted in July.

Wolverhampton Civic Centre

On site staffing numbers were increased in mid-September, a spokesperson said, adding: "We continue to pilot new ways of working, capturing the benefits of working in a more agile way.

"We anticipate an agile model for the future which involves a mixture of home and office-based working for many colleagues, while always ensuring residents’ needs are met."

The Civic Centre has been used as a Covid testing centre since January and in recent weeks has served as a temporary home to Housing Ministry staff ahead of their move to the i9 building.

Walsall Council leader, Councillor Mike Bird, said his authority was developing a "blended approach to how we work which combines on and off-site working as needed".

Walsall Civic Centre

He added: "Work is what we do and not where we do it – presence with a purpose. Numbers of staff within buildings therefore, will vary day-to-day dependent on the requirement and identified need."

In the wake of the pandemic a number of councils across the country have launched reviews into the use of buildings, with an increased remote workforce meaning some sites could be put on the market.

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