Week In Week Out; Carrying on at the council

Over the past seven months the BBC has been following the day to day lives of employees and councillors at MCC. The resulting documentary, Carrying on at the council, aired on BBC One’s Week In Week Out programme on Monday 30 January, at 10:35.

Firstly, we’d like say thank you for the supportive and positive messages following the airing of the documentary. We didn’t agree to the documentary as a way to show-off what we do; we did it to demonstrate how we work and how we have coped as a council – and county – going through change. It’s fantastic to see that the community recognises the pressure we are under as a local authority to deliver services despite the funding cuts we faced. We are indeed carrying on at the council; with a ‘business as usual’ approach to the services we offer.

We received a few queries and comments following the documentary and thought we’d address them in this blog as they are undoubtedly questions on other people’s minds too. Of course, if you have any additional queries then please send them to us through Twitter or the comments on this blog and we’ll be happy to respond.

What’s the management theory behind not allowing people to have any personal items on desks?

MCC implemented agile working around four years ago, although the programme was greatly accelerated in 2009. Agile working is the term used to describe how employees can work flexibly from any location, be that from a council building, in the community, from home or any combination of these. We have instilled an ethos that work is not somewhere you go, but something you do.

As part of this we adopted a clean desk policy in MCC offices. Nobody has their own desk; we share workspaces (one desk for every two people) and work agilely. Staff can plug in and work from any available desk when they come into the office, allocated on a first come, first served basis. This is not about disallowing staff to have personal items on desks, but ensuring that nothing is left on a desk for somebody else to clear away. There is also limited storage space in MCC locations for staff to keep personal belongings so a blanket clear desk policy applies to all staff using communal working arrangements. Whatever your view on such things, if you are sharing a desk with up to 400 colleagues then you shouldn’t be personalising it.

This arrangement not only allows us to be more flexible, it also saves money. Instead of a desktop computer and their own desk, each member of staff has a laptop computer that they can use anywhere. This means the replacements for the crumbling County Hall can be far smaller; the new building at Magor is at least £250,000 per year cheaper to run and accommodates 400 staff with only 200 desks. The new centre of democracy at Usk – which will house the replacement council chamber – will operate in the same way.

How can you extoll the virtues of dimming lights in Monmouthshire towns whilst many don’t even work?

The current streetlights in use all over Monmouthshire were installed in the 1990s and have become increasingly inefficient by today’s standards. The new lights are computer operated and can be set to meet the needs of individual localities and residents, making them more efficient and sustainable. The lights can be dimmed with little difference to the overall lighting level, resulting in minimised energy use and operation costs.

In addition, the new lights have sensors which inform the control room when a fault is developing. Faults can therefore be identified and rectified sooner. The upgrade will take around two years to complete, so in the meantime lighting faults should still be reported to your local one stop shop or via Twitter.

This upgrade will be part-financed by an interest free government loan awarded to us for demonstrating good practice. The savings provided by the new lights mean this loan will be repaid within six years; a huge benefit in a time where funding cuts threaten to affect many services.

The proposed closure of Abergavenny market featured on Week In Week Out. How can shutting a livestock market in a market town be good for the economy?

The relocation of the livestock market from Abergavenny to Raglan will not only provide a huge boost to Abergavenny’s economy, it will also allow us to build a 21st century standard livestock market on a larger, more accessible site.

Although the current livestock market does bring people into the town the numbers are limited. We do not have the money to improve it, we can’t expand it as there’s no space to do so and there are problems with accessibility. There is the additional threat of an out of town supermarket being built near Abergavenny.

A supermarket in the town centre will bring shoppers in. A recent Southampton University study showed that town centre supermarkets encourage residents to shop in the town and that a significant proportion of the people who visit them from outside the town go on to use other town centre shops. The recent campaign by Morriston Chamber of trade to bring a supermarket back to the town centre further illustrates just what an asset a town centre supermarket would be to Abergavenny. The experience of nearby Monmouth, which lost its livestock market and now boasts a town centre supermarket, shows just how vibrant Abergavenny could become.

The new development will include a brand new library for the town. At a time when many councils are closing libraries, this represents a real vote of confidence by MCC in Abergavenny’s future.

Posted by Laura in Communications

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