Council plans office shake-up to save £40m
THE city council could close more than 20 of its office buildings in a long-term plan to save £40 million.
The shake-up could mean a new lease of life for a former bonded warehouse next to the River Avon, which could revitalise a neglected corner of Bristol near the Cumberland Basin.
The £20 million conversion of A Bond warehouse – next to the Create Centre in Smeaton Road – is being considered as part of a scheme to reduce the number of council offices from 35 to nine during the next three or four years.
Council leaders are looking at the possibility of converting the nine-storey red-brick listed warehouse, which the authority already owns, into offices for 1,800 of its staff.
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If the conversion goes ahead, council leaders believe it could kickstart regeneration of the area in the same way that the Temple Quay business park took off after the former Bristol and West building society moved its headquarters to Temple Way.
They are even looking at the idea of taking out some of the slip roads to the elevated road system over the Cumberland Basin to open up land for redevelopment, which would become more commercially attractive when the long-awaited rapid bus system from the Long Ashton park and ride site to the city centre is up and running.
The cost of the offices shake-up would be an estimated £70 million, with money borrowed at preferential rates over many years.
But the council's treasury officials believe that within 15 years they will have recouped all the costs.
And within 25 years the scheme would deliver an overall saving of nearly £40 million.
The proposals include keeping the Council House on College Green as the authority's headquarters, although it is expected to undergo internal changes to create more open-plan offices and equip them with the latest technology to speed up working practices. The Council House is also expected to be adapted to make it easier for people to pop in for advice or information and relieve the pressure on Phoenix Court, in Broad Weir, which is expected to be eventually closed down.
Brunel House, which sits behind the Council House in St George's Road, will also be kept.
But a question mark remains over many other civic offices which could eventually be used by schools, handed over for community use or sold off for redevelopment.
Liberal Democrat Cabinet Councillor Jon Rogers said: "The proposals do so much more than save council tax payers' money. They will also create a much-improved service to the public, contribute to the creation of new jobs in Bristol, provide sites for badly-needed new schools or nurseries, create opportunities for new houses, reduce our carbon footprint and help regenerate central and south Bristol.
"The plans are built around saving money by spending much less on out-of-date wasteful buildings and freeing us from expensive leases."
Council treasury officials believe that the programme would save an average of £1.3 million a year and all the costs would be recouped by 2026/27.
They have also worked out that keeping on the existing 35 buildings would cost council tax payers nearly £1 million a year in maintenance and running costs alone.
Council leader Simon Cook said: "We have to move on from old-fashioned methods of working, where people have a desk of their own in small rooms. We believe that by being more flexible, using open-plan offices with shared desks and modern technologies such as tablets, we can run the council much more smoothly and efficiently – as well as more cheaply."
Hundreds of jobs have been shed by the council as part of the biggest cuts in its history. It currently employs about 5,000 office staff but further cuts are expected to see this figure reduce to 4,300 in the years ahead.