By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Councillors have been assured a “meaningful” staff consultation will be held if Nottinghamshire County Council decides to sell or leave County Hall.
The authority is drawing up business cases for its property estate, and the Conservative leadership has suggested it could leave “some if not all” of its West Bridgford headquarters.
The council’s leader and a leading cabinet member have both previously suggested the building could be turned into bars, restaurants, flats or a hotel.
However, a scrutiny committee has been assured “no final decision is yet to be made” on whether this will happen.
Now a council committee has asked for assurances that staff and unions will be consulted before a final decision is taken.
Councillor Kate Foale is the leader of the opposition Labour Group.
Speaking in the overview committee on Thursday (March 23), she said: “What concerns me with this is that we’ve still not had staff consultation or review.
“We’ve done the review of the building, which is fine, but how staff feel about [this] and hybrid working, that is part of this holding equation.
“If we’re going to do this, we need to do it properly, we need to have an open review and get the unions involved.
“If it’s all about saving money on the buildings, we’re completely ignoring the impact on staff.”
Cllr Francis Purdue-Horan (Ind), of the Independent Alliance, added: “We feel this whole scrutiny review has been somewhat of a sham, set up to sell County Hall to the highest bidder.
“Staff are extremely concerned. How seriously are we taking the concerns of staff, and the discussions with the trade unions?”
Responding to their concerns, Cllr Keith Girling (Con), cabinet member for asset management, said: “I care about staff and we’re having conversations with them.
“The unions will be talked to, staff will be talked to and that’s all part of this process. They will be coming along with us as part of this journey.”
He added: “It will be a meaningful consultation.
“We will listen to what people say and we’ll balance that with the needs of the communities and the function of the council to come to the right decision.”
Derek Higton, interim corporate director for place, added: “Absolutely it’s the case we need to ensure staff are engaged and consulted.
“Their welfare is a significant part of our decision-making process.”
The meeting heard some buildings across the authority’s property portfolio are only operating at between 20 and 30 per cent capacity.
This is due to a hybrid working strategy approved in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the authority also approved its Investing in Nottinghamshire programme to set out major changes to its office estate.
This included reducing its property portfolio from 17 to nine buildings, which has already saved the council more than £1m a year.
It has also approved construction of the new £15.7m Top Wighay Farm building, near Hucknall and Linby, which is tipped to be the council’s first carbon-neutral office.
Papers say the County Hall business case will review whether Top Wighay could be redesigned with the potential for taking on other council facilities.
Cllr Girling previously suggested this could include the authority’s debating chamber if the West Bridgford base does close.
Thursday’s meeting also heard asbestos issues and costs to bring County Hall up to a modern standard are estimated at £50m over the next decade.
Cllr Girling adds the building also has a “phenomenal heating bill”, with reports saying it is unlikely to “meet net carbon targets” in the future.
Scrutiny papers say the County Hall business case will be published during spring 2023.