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Council Leader and Chief Exec Quick to Allay Fears of Council Office Moves

Published on: 23 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 24 Mar, 2023

By Martin Giles

Any co-location of Guildford and Waverley borough councils is likely to take years, the joint chief executive of both councils has reassured staff.

His briefing note (see below), shared with The Guildford Dragon NEWS, was issued in the wake and an announcement made by Cllr Paul Follows, the leader of Waverley Borough Council, to Godalming Town Council on Thursday, March 16 and subsequent comments on social media.

See: Scrapping Car Park Development Linked to Unifying Borough Council Offices

A post on Cllr Follows’ Facebook page includes a video of his exclusive announcement to the town council of the intention for Guildford and Waverley to share offices.

Explaining a decision to scrap plans to develop the Crown Court car park in Godalming town centre, he said: “I’m actually going to do something I wouldn’t normally do in this sort of meeting, but I think it’s an appropriate place to do it, being a meeting of the electors of Godalming, I’m going to put out information that is not available anywhere else and won’t be until the end of the week and is a little bit of a preview.”

“I’m pleased to announce that Guildford Borough Council and Waverley Borough Council will be announcing their intentions to co-locate on a single site and that site will be determined in the near future”.

But it is understood that the announcement has angered councillors at GBC who thought any statement would be agreed beforehand so as to ensure council employees and affected residents were not needlessly alarmed.

Cllr Julia McShane

The Lib Dem GBC leader Julia McShane responded quickly this afternoon to allay any fears by clarifying that no decision on co-location would be made until after the impending borough council elections in May while adding that her Lib Dem Party was in principle, in favour of the cost-saving proposal.

She said: “No decisions have been made yet, and will not be made until after this May’s elections, and if councillors across both authorities do agree to work together on a shared office space then it is likely to take some years to achieve.

“As a result of Conservative economic mismanagement nationally and cuts to council funding, Guildford borough council is being forced to make substantial savings in order to balance the books and protect public services. The collaboration project with Waverley is a huge part of making such savings.”

The possibility of the two councils sharing office space, with its obvious potential for savings, has been in circulation since the joint working initiative started.

Although speaking as the leader of a council led by a coalition partnership, Cllr McShane’s statement was clearly from her party’s perspective.

She continued: “The Liberal Democrat group is in favour of the potential savings from a shared office, subject to the final details, but we have already recognised that, if a shared office is pursued, it would be vital to retain a reception, council chamber and meeting rooms in Guildford and accessible to the public, regardless of where back-office and service delivery staff are located.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Asked for his view, her deputy Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “Cllr Follows is obviously under pressure due to his U-turn on his development project and has implied we are a lot further down the line with a project to co-locate teams than is actually the case.

“Whilst it would seem obvious to investigate the co-location of teams at some point in the future, it will be for the next GBC administration to kick off a project, with WBC, to assess the costs and benefits of a move, and any potential location or locations. Of course, this must be done in proper consultation with residents and the staff that would be affected.

“My personal view is to be open-minded to the possibility, but I think we will always need a civic presence in Guildford and a location that is easily accessible to all residents. GBC’s commitment to keeping staff in the borough is clear, we have just passed a planning application to build a new depot on Slyfield at a cost of £25 million.”

The Joint Chief Executive’s briefing note in full…

Tom Horwood

From Tom Horwood

21 Mar

Dear Colleague

I would like to update you on aspects of the collaboration between Guildford and Waverley Councils.

Until the elections on 4th May there will be public debate about council direction, including the collaboration, and there will be constraints on how the council can officially respond.

It is right that political candidates set out their views to the electorate. After the election, the management team and I will work with the new political leaderships on their priorities and future direction, and I will keep you posted. There has already been some social media on the office situation in Godalming and I update on that below.

In 2021, both councils decided to share a Joint Management Team and for the JMT to bring forward options for collaboration. The first part is complete and saves the councils £860,000 per year, [money] that we would have had to find from elsewhere if we were not collaborating in this way. This is all about trying to keep our services going in a sustainable way.

Prior to the collaboration, both councils had project groups looking at their future requirements for office space as we began to adopt flexible working patterns. Our HQs have similar issues in terms of ageing, inefficient buildings that require investment to keep them running. And both councils have regeneration ambitions for Guildford and Godalming.

As I have said in staff briefings and was mentioned in the original collaboration report in 2021, it makes sense to see if these projects can work together in some way. Our political leaderships have recently asked us to work up some options and we have started a project to do this.

Our objectives will be to see if a different approach to property and offices can contribute to our financial and environmental targets, support service delivery and make the councils even better employers for current and future staff.

No decisions have been taken about what the final outcomes will be, so some social media comments that appear may get a bit ahead of where we actually are. If councillors agree to work together on office space, it is likely to take some time (ie years) to achieve.

Anything that might affect employees will include early discussions with the unions and consultation as required by policy. We will keep you posted on this and all aspects of the partnership in our regular fortnightly emails and in staff briefings.

If you have any questions or concerns about this or any other aspect of the collaboration, please raise them with your manager, HR, union or a member of JMT.

Cllr Follows was contacted for comment.

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Responses to Council Leader and Chief Exec Quick to Allay Fears of Council Office Moves

  1. Dave Fielding Reply

    March 24, 2023 at 8:42 pm

    Having two separate offices on different sites, just 4 miles apart just doesn’t make sense, merege asap and make the savings. Do some work on numbers who actually visit the different offices and why.

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