My (fairly) recent article in which I mentioned staff concerns over possible redundancies being the likely consequence of Shropshire Council’s disastrous policy of cutting its cloth with a cut-throat razor was met with the usual response – silence, but at least they didn’t go all out to deny it, because denial would have given it credence, nor did they bother to point out that my ‘predictions’ of staff lay-offs were a bit late by a few months, they were just one of the much-vaunted “Covid opportunities” opened up for the council executive, except that my predictions can be dated a few years prior to the latest cull (it’s all still out there; this is the beauty of these blogs, they never go away) which, aside from its intended financial gains for the executive, also had gains in effectively closing down Shirehall to elected Members.
They kept that quiet! Look at the figures and you’ll understand the reticence.
What wasn’t so surprising was the Opposition’s apparently being surprised to learn that many of the redundancies I was predicting at the start of the
cull (sorry, redundancies) had already taken place when they were woken up by management’s latest announcement of further closures of elected Member’s facilities: that the ‘Column’ restaurant would no longer be available as a restaurant and the lack of consultation with elected Members was challenged (although you need access to internal emails to read about that, but I’ve copied those particular emails over to here).
I circulated the link (see below) to last year’s Shropshire Star article to all Members.
Rude awakenings, if not all round then to a significant chunk of those people charged with looking after not just their own constituents, but to anyone and everyone living in the county. Constituents have an expectation of us (which we’re regularly challenged on, and not just when elections come around) and, not unreasonably, we have our own expectations of those senior managers/directors who are paid to “enable” us to address those challenges and do OUR job.
The full, sorry story is here…
Below is the notification that started it all. And whilst it may seem petty to kick off about the loss of the restaurant (itself a well-used breakaway facility and the only facility where elected Members could entertain visiting guests), it was more to do with the total lack of consultation because what they’ve done goes way beyond the inconvenience of bringing in your own drinks because, as David Vasmer says, if you’re stuck in Shirehall for a couple of hours, staff working from home have only to put the kettle on and rustle up a ham sandwich, but as a councillor waiting on someone else’s convenience you’re sitting around with the prospect of your return journey (in my case 27.4 miles, half of it along country lanes) to look forward to. In the old days you’d have been doing other constituency business with other departments and returned home with a few “results”. No more.
What’s new from Monday 28 March?
From Monday 28 March desks and collaborative spaces will be relocated to the west wing and old restaurant area
The ‘Queen’s Landing’ area of the first floor continues to be accessible to staff and councillors, including the ICT Help Hub, Council Chamber, committee rooms, Councillors’ lounge and chairman’s office.
Bookable collaborative working spaces and desk space, via the online booking system will be available at:
- West Wing
- Old Restaurant
- Library Annexe Building (in Shirehall car park)
And this is the email trail the above gave rise to. …
From: David Vasmer
Sent: 25 March 2022 09:52
To: Mark Barrow
Subject: RE: Fire safety works – updated info for members
Your email seems to imply that the “Old Restaurant”, as you call it, has been permanently closed.
Is that the case?
If so when was this decided and who made the decision?
Was there any attempt to consult members? Were staff consulted?
If not when can we expect the Old Restaurant to reopen?
If the Restaurant is not reopened or until it is, can the facilities at Shirehall for eating and drinking be improved now that meetings are taking place on a regular basis.
On Wednesday I attended Cabinet in the morning and Community Overview in the afternoon starting at 1pm. I went outside for lunch but later on after Community Overview I had to stay to get a laptop problem sorted out. The only choice for sustenance was a coffee machine that doesn’t work – my cappuccino was more like a black coffee – and a vending machine full of unhealthy snacks.
For the sake of staff and councillors can something be done urgently to improve the food and drink offer at Shirehall? And there is a clear case of discrimination against staff who find it very difficult working from home and need to be permanently based in Shirehall.
Anybody would think that managers were actively discouraging people from attending Shirehall and making a visit as unpleasant as possible.
Cllr David Vasmer
Leader, Shropshire & Shrewsbury Liberal Democrats
From: Mark Barrow <Mark.Barrow@shropshire.gov.uk>
Sent: Friday, March 25, 2022 4:08:20 PM
To: David Vasmer <David.Vasmer@shropshire.gov.uk>
Cc: Members <Members@shropshire.gov.uk>; Andy Begley <Andy.Begley@shropshire.gov.uk>
Subject: Column Restaurant
The decision to close the restaurant and make the staff redundant was taken very early in the pandemic in 2020. The staff were furloughed for a short while but as it became clear that we would never return to the model of office working that existed previously and given the shift to hybrid/home working, Shirehall would only have circa 150 people working in it at any one time and it was judged to be simply financially unviable to continue. You will recall from the recent reports to Cabinet in respect of trading losses within Shire Services and its schools contracts that we simply have no financial headroom to subsidise such facilities any more.
Very few people now do work out of Shirehall on a daily basis and we have been tracking the impact on staff through staff surveys, discussions with employee groups etc. What most people now do is either bring their own food/snacks or pop next door to the Sainsbury’s Local adjacent the main entrance. Work is underway to create a range of areas, including the sort of break out spaces you refer where food can be eaten. I will pass your comments on the facilities team about the coffee vending machine as clearly something is not working as it should.
From: Nigel Hartin
Sent: 26 March 2022 08:21
To: Mark Barrow; David Vasmer
Subject: Re: Column Restaurant
When were members consulted on this decision Mark, I don’t recall seeing anything about this at the time?
From: Roger Evans
Sent: 26 March 2022 09:3
To: Nigel Hartin; Mark Barrow; David Vasmer
Cc: Members; Andy Begley
Subject: RE: Column Restaurant
I too cannot remember any messages regrading this being sent out.
This message is also not sent from a political angle but from an elected member position.
Was this discussed with any elected members, it certainly wasn’t with me as at that time the Group Leader of the largest opposition group on the council. This was, is, a fundamental change in policy and surely should have been consulted on and information sent out to all members.
Have any other similar type of policy decisions been made.
I am also not aware of any figures being published, internally or publicly of the Shire Services trading position which showed how the different and separate arms were performing. At a recent Schools Forum meeting when the Shire Services figures for schools were presented, shown them they expressed complete surprise as no one had previously thought they needed to know them. No warnings had ever been given out. They had not been told that consultants were, had been employed to look them and to make recommendations on how to eliminate them.
Were staff consulted on this loss, and if they were can we be shown the result. The decision of the restaurant seems to go very much against the comments made that SC is a member driven authority.
Finally, can it be confirmed that when the next council meeting is held in the Shirehall refreshments will be made available for members.
From: Dave Tremellen
Sent: 31 March 2022 08:01
To: Roger Evans; Nigel Hartin; Mark Barrow; David Vasmer;
Cc: Members ; Andy Begley;
Subject: RE: Column Restaurant
Ah, Roger, you’re forgetting the memo that was sent to all of us ELECTED representatives of the people in this democracy of ours… well, a version of democracy any way.
I’m sure there must have been a memo. Anyway, even if you weren’t told it was about to happen, you were certainly told that it HAD happened, although the Column restaurant wasn’t mentioned specifically…
From: Roger Evans
Sent: 31 March 2022 10:17
To: Dave Tremellen; Nigel Hartin; Mark Barrow; David Vasmer;
Cc: Members; Andy Begley;
Subject: RE: Column Restaurant
Had missed this memo from the Shropshire Star. I am usually good at reading all the messages they supply. I was away on the date when this was published !
As I assume it is with you, local media and recently press releases are the source where I get most of the information concerning Shropshire Council.
I did note though that in a report I read last year, buried within it, was a statement that two employees had left the authority during the financial year 20/21 at a cost of just under £1M. This report didn’t identify how this total was arrived at, nor the names of the former members of staff involved but costs would have included redundancy and pension cost.
Now, I haven’t printed my original response to Roger here because I’ve just noticed that it is riddled with syntax errors. Nothing suspicious there, just that the first paragraph of my response to Roger doesn’t deserve exposure in decent company. What follows is what SHOULD have been printed. Mea Culpa to Roger, everyone else, and especially to the English language which I know I play fast and loose with sometimes but there is a limit, even for me.
From: Dave Tremellen, to: Roger, Nigel, Mark, David, Members, Andy
And Roger, don’t forget the cost of the NDAs. NDAs do not evidence largesse on the part of a Local Authority (!) or rather, because THEY’RE the ones paying for it, on the part of the local taxpayers.
Those of us who were closely involved with earlier cases, although I suspect also included the redundancies you refer to, have a mass of evidence concerning the way in which Shropshire Council operates its NDAs. I suppose that because the senior manager/director responsible for operating “our” NDAs has now left the authority with their own pay-off, we can at last get the full story out there (including, some years ago, a denial that Shropshire Council even applied the pressures of NDAs to avoid embarrassment – and the person making that earlier statement will suprise quite a few), being careful to avoid financial penalty for the innocent parties, whilst maximising the impact on those who feel they have so much to hide that they keep the cosh in the velvet glove of a NDA. Let’s see how far they can be provoked.
The response from Shropshire Council will certainly be a threat of civil legal action, having first got themselves an injunction, which is when the full story of Shropshire Council’s nefarious goings on will be subjected to the spotlight of the open court.
Responses to enquiries (forget Freedom of Information requests) are a master class in dissembling, in fact I’m just waiting for an online briefing in that particular linguistic skill.
Watch the spaces!