Plans to close offices and move staff backed
PLANS for a shake-up of council offices in the city as part of a long-term savings plan have been approved – despite concerns being raised about some of the proposals.
As previously reported in the Post, the city council is looking at closing more than 20 of its offices while also considering moving staff to a former bonded warehouse next to the River Avon.
The project could see the local authority selling any property it owns which will become surplus as part of the changes.
The approval by the Liberal Democrat-run cabinet last night has made way for more detail to be worked on, with final decisions to be delegated to the relevant council officers and executive member.
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But Tory councillor Geoff Gollop raised concerns about some of the proposals at the meeting.
He said he was not sure a move to more office space in the centre of Bristol could be financially viable and was concerned about proposals to move a popular customer contact point, currently near Cabot Circus, to the Council House.
"I don't believe a plan to acquire office space in the centre of a city is something that would be seen as appropriate by property agents," Mr Gollop told the meeting.
He also raised concerns about the balance between spending on the project and the savings it will bring.
"I find the proposal to close down the customer contact centre at Phoenix Court because it is too popular remarkable," he said.
"If it moves into this building, where the footfall is nothing like so substantial, that seems to be scoring an own goal.
"We will find that people come through more quickly, but that will be because there is a lot less footfall .
"I have a real concern that there are decisions here that it is important you reconsider."
Deputy leader Jon Rogers said that the proposals were not only about rationalising buildings but also improving service delivery.
In response to Mr Gollop, he said: "You are right, we need to flex the figures and need to be very clear on them. I have been assured that these are conservative estimates on wider savings."
Dr Rogers said that the council was becoming increasingly efficient and well-run.
"It is really important that we do listen to your concerns."
If the £20 million conversion of the A Bond warehouse in Smeaton Road goes ahead, council leaders believe it could kick-start 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.
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.