Thursday August 26th 2021
Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp
More than half of Midlothian Council’s workforce are now equipped to work from home as it looks to take its services into the heart of its communities.
Council leader Derek Milligan says the Covid pandemic has brought flexible working practices forward by 20 years to make them part of everyone’s lives.
And he is keen to grab the opportunities it now gives staff to work remotely and within towns and villages across the county.
However he has cautioned that the need to ensure staff welfare is monitored will be vital moving forward adding “we have a duty of care for all our workers”.
In Midlothian Council 2,300 workers – more than half – can now access their work systems remotely and the local authority has issued an additional 877 laptops to enable remote working and 1,000 mobile phones and other devices.
Councillor Milligan believes the days of travelling distances to a central office are over, and the local authority has agreed to look at refurbishing or selling its Dalkeith headquarters among other central buildings.
Instead local libraries, schools, community buildings and even churches, will be considered as bases for council services to operate from.
Mr Milligan said: “Looking to the future it is clear we are going to have to deliver services in a different way.
“Some areas will stay the same but there will be some services that will change completely.
“We, as a council, declared a climate emergency and we have a huge opportunity to cut down on use of office space and travel and where possible we should grab that.
“Personally I think if you live in Loanhead, for example, why should you have to travel to Dalkeith every day to do your job, if you can do your job from another council building where you live?”
Midlothian Council was one of the first to get its child care services up and running at the start of the lockdown and initially included children from neighbouring authorities in its hubs.
Mr Milligan is proud of the achievements of council staff across its services as they adapted to lockdown and new ways of working.
From leisure staff switching roles to support colleagues in waste services to trebling the number of workers manning the council’s call centre, the council’s 4,000 plus workforce stepped up to the challenge.
Among the work carried out 14,000 schoolchildren were supported by teachers in home learning, 540,000 meals and packed lunches were delivered to nurseries schools and support hubs and 14,000 ‘kindness’ cards were posted out to vulnerable households with support details.
During the winter months council staff processed over 5,140 applications for the Midlothian Food and Key Essential Fund and awarded £866,130 in food vouchers and fuel support for those in the greatest need.
And during last 18 months they processed more than 9,000 Scottish Welfare Fund applications (compared with 5524 in 2019/20) and awarded £252,000 in self-isolation support grants.
Mr Milligan said: “Staff, from the people on the ground delivering the services to the management were just fantastic.
“At one stage we had more than 100 people manning the call centre, checking on vulnerable people who were shielding that they were okay.
“We were one of the first councils up and running with child care for key workers and at one stage had children from neighbouring local authorities to allow critical workers to do their jobs.
”Our staff worked tirelessly and adapted to different roles to keep services running. Like everywhere else our numbers were affected by people having to shield or self-isolate but everyone came together to ensure vital services continued.”
Now he says it is important that the welfare of the council’s workers is made a priority as they face changes to the way they work.
He said: “The challenge for the council is to make sure we get the balance right and make sure staff are supported and given what they need to do their jobs in whatever way works best for them.
“The hope is that if we get this right instead of residents having to come to Dalkeith to pay their rent from across the county, they will be able to go to their local libraries or community buildings.
“It is important we get it right, I am really concerned that staff take the time to look after themselves. It is about finding a work/life balance and we have to make sure they can find that. We have a duty of care.”
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