Report of the Portfolio Holder – Corporate Governance
Councillor Duncan McGregor (Deputy Leader of the Council) presented a report seeking approval of the draft Agile Working Policy. He stated that the COVID-19 pandemic had drastically changed how people worked, and the policy would aim to make Working from Home processes simpler for managers and employees, fit the corporate context and supportive working environment the Council has in place, and adhere to legislation and Best Practice guidelines. He added that the Agile Working Policy drafted before the pandemic was now not fit for purpose.
Councillor Duncan McGregor informed Members that the draft Policy had been unable to go to Union/Employee Consultation Committee for consideration, but Trade Unions had been consulted with on its content, as had SAMT and the New Ways of Working Group.
Councillor Duncan McGregor outlined the reasons for recommending the draft Policy such as providing clear direction for managers when undertaking people management processes, services and supporting employees and other stakeholders in the workplace.
The Chair invited questions from Members on the content of the draft Policy.
Councillor Sandra Peake referred to the Policy’s risk assessment and asked if employees were able to take home adjustable seats from the office, and it was confirmed that they were. She also asked if provisions would be in place for making sure employees have home insurance to protect equipment and the Human Resources and Organisational Development Manager explained that employees would be asked for information about home insurance arrangements.
Councillor Deborah Watson believed the Policy would tie employees down for twelve months, which she felt would be an area of concern in such rapidly changing times, so she could only support the proposals if this was a six month period instead. She added that current Working from Home arrangements had resulted in contact issues.
N.B - At this point Councillor Dexter Bullock joined the meeting.
Councillor Liz Smyth referred to the part in the ‘Principles of Agile Working’ section, which noted that employees would be contactable at all times. She asked if there would be some sort of calendar sharing system so Members could see if other officers were available in a department in the absence of their colleagues.
Councillor Derek Adams had data protection and GDPR related concerns about confidential papers being stored at homes, because children and family members could possibly see them. He also asked if for the compressed hours part of the Policy, provisions to continue service delivery were in place if a number of officers in a department choose the same day to not work.
Councillor Andrew Joesbury expressed concerns that the Policy had not been considered by an Overview and Scrutiny Committee or the Union/Employee Consultation Committee. He also shared Councillor Deborah Watson’s concerns that the Policy appeared to be setting working arrangements in stone during times that were changing constantly.
Councillor Maxine Dixon expressed concerns that if an employee wanted to take their adjustable chair and were spending half their time in the office and half at home, they might have to carry their chair between the two.
Councillor Ross Walker acknowledged that Trade Unions had been consulted, but stated he could not support the Policy until he had seen a detailed report on precisely what the Trade Unions felt about it.
The Monitoring Officer stated that in response to Councillor Andrew Joesbury, employee policies were not considered by Overview and Scrutiny Committees. Councillor Duncan McGregor added that the reason consultation on this particular version of the Policy had been pushed back was because the Agile Working Policy drafted in March 2020 had required a complete re-think in light of COVID-19. He added that for the previous six months, managers, officers and Trade Unions had been working together to produce this version of the Policy.
Councillor Duncan McGregor responded to the point about data protection and GDPR consideration at home, and agreed that having provisions in place was of vital importance because other local authorities had been fined hundreds of thousands of pounds for data breaches in recent years. In regard to setting the Policy for a six month period instead of twelve months, he felt this was a fair compromise to allow Members to revisit the Policy earlier.
The Human Resources and Organisational Development Manager responded to the concerns about the twelve month period by stating this was a review period that would take place after six and twelve months, and any working arrangements would be for managers to discuss with their officers and not set in stone. She added that as long as service delivery in a department could continue, there were a number of flexible options for managers to utilise. In regard to contacting officers she stated that provisions would be included to ensure officers are contactable and diaries are open to other members of staff.
The Human Resources and Organisational Development Manager responded to the point about flexible hours by stating that this was already in place, and managers were asked to ensure cover and continuation of service delivery. She concluded her response by adding that Trade Unions were fully supportive of the Policy and data protection and GDPR protections had been discussed with the relevant officers.
The Director of Development spoke on the Policy and stated that the Government had handed the responsibility of Working From Home arrangements to local authorities at an early stage of the pandemic, so the Council needed to put together arrangements quickly. He added that this Policy would attempt to put the arrangements into more of a structure, and give more consideration to the duty of care the Council has to its employees.
Councillor Deborah Watson suggested adding to the report’s one recommendation to review current Agile Working arrangements and for it to be reported to Council in six months, and it was agreed to add this to the recommendation in the interests of inclusivity. Councillor Steve Fritchley (Leader of the Council) reiterated that the Policy would be constantly reviewed.
Councillor Ross Walker suggested that Councillor Duncan McGregor could include a report on exactly what Trade Unions thought of the Policy as part of the six month review. Councillor Duncan McGregor confirmed it would be included.
The recommendation in the report and the amendment suggested by Councillor Deborah Watson were moved by Councillor Duncan McGregor and seconded by Councillor Steve Fritchley (Leader of the Council).
On being put to the vote it was RESOLVED that Council supports the Agile Working Policy, and a review be carried out on current Agile Working arrangements for it to be reported to Council in six months.
(Human Resources and Organisational Development Manager/Governance Manager)