Pandemic recovery plans to be discussed by Cabinet

Marmion-House-photo21/07/21

Members of Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet will meet next week to discuss a range of measures being proposed to ensure the authority remains fit for the future, while protecting vital services for the town’s residents as we look to recovery from the pandemic.

The global public health crisis has had a huge financial impact on councils, organisations and businesses across the country and the same is true for Tamworth Borough Council. This additional financial burden came at a time when councils were already experiencing considerable budgetary pressure.

Tamworth Borough Council is facing a Budget deficit of £7m over the next five years, arising mainly from planned reforms which are anticipated to significantly reduce the council’s future funding from Government, plus the additional challenges from the pandemic.

The council needs to act now to ensure we can tackle this effectively - while protecting and enhancing vital services for the most vulnerable in our community.

The Recovery and Reset programme was launched in October last year, when Cabinet agreed a programme of work split across a number of project areas. Since then, potential opportunities for savings, income generation or efficiency improvements have been identified in those seven project areas.

Cabinet will be asked to consider a number of recommendations at their meeting on July 29. If approved by Cabinet, the proposals would then go to Full Council for consideration by all councillors on August 25.

If approved by Full Council, this would kick-start detailed engagement with relevant partners and members of the community. It is expected that the programme will develop and evolve based on the outcome of those conversations.

The Recovery and Reset programme includes some significant proposals, which have a number of central aims:

  • Creating a more streamlined, resilient and efficient council that is fit for the future
  • Taking positive action to tackle the predicted budget deficit in a way that protects and enhances vital services for the most vulnerable in our community
  • Building a better Tamworth by boosting the town’s economy and heritage

Marmion House

The most significant proposal could see Tamworth Borough Council leaving Marmion House permanently. The possibility of moving out of the building has been on the long-term agenda for some time and the proposals could lead to savings of over £3.5m over the next five years (£10m over 30 years). Previous stock surveys have shown that Marmion House will require capital investment alone of between £2m-£3.5m over five years and between £6.2m-£7.5m over 30 years. Once revenue costs of running and maintaining the building are added in, the costs are much greater. The building is significantly under-occupied, despite attempts to rent floors to other businesses.

The pandemic has forced the majority of Tamworth Borough Council office-based staff to mobilise to home working and this has proved successful on the whole. The footprint of the building and its prime location presents opportunities for contributing to town centre regeneration, and this would be explored further.

Smart Working

As part of the proposals, the council would therefore explore options for smaller premises to allow for a combination of home-based and office-based working. Formal consultations would be carried out with members of staff over proposed new arrangements for smart working.

Reception

Another key element of the plan is the reception service offer to residents and the recommendation is for this to be improved in line with customer demand. This will include a new town centre reception with more targeted opening hours and some outreach into the community for vulnerable residents, as well as enhanced digital services. Cabinet members will be asked to approve a period of engagement as the first step to identifying what that new and improved customer service should be.

Protecting the most vulnerable

Alongside the customer services offer, the council also plans to develop a new vulnerability strategy, with key partners, which aims to make sure that services work hand in hand with the voluntary sector and are targeted in such a way as to reach those who need them most.

Civic Headquarters

The proposals also recommend exploring the use of Tamworth Town Hall as the municipal headquarters of the town, where civic and council meetings would be held.

Economic Regeneration

Another project will focus entirely on economy and regeneration, supporting the wider town and its businesses in recovering from the pandemic.

Cllr Jeremy Oates, Leader of Tamworth Borough Council, said: “We need to seize the opportunities and learning of the last 19 months. The pandemic has triggered action by bringing forward a lot of issues that we knew were on the horizon and were in our long-term planning, but it makes sense to tackle them head on, now, as we look towards recovery from this global health crisis.

“Recovery and Reset also acknowledges that the financial challenges we’re facing related to the pandemic are far from over.

“Councils, like many businesses, have seen significantly reduced and we were already facing challenges around that. The added lost income through our leisure and tourism attractions, rates and rents, as a result of the pandemic has accelerated and increased the scale of this problem.

“We also knew a decision would have to be made around the future of Marmion House and whether we’re making the best use of this and other council-owned buildings. At the same time, we know we need to do more to meet customer expectations around accessing services. And at the heart of all of this is making sure we are supporting the most vulnerable members of our community effectively.

“The Recovery and Reset programme allows us to take stock of our work across the council and make sure we’re providing value for money, that we’re efficient, meeting people’s expectations of what is required of us and remain robust and fit for the future.

“We know the Marmion House news will likely generate headlines and discussion, but we’ve successfully mobilised more than 200 people to work from home, and like many other organisations, this begs the question is having a large single building the most appropriate way to run a council, especially as the costs coming up are so high. Marmion House has been the subject of much discussion for many years, but we can now have a fresh look at it in the wake of learning from the pandemic.

“For members of the public, this gives us the opportunity to look at providing the face-to-face service in a more effective way, targeting the help to those who really need the in-person support, while improving the digital offer for those who would prefer to get their council business done in their own time without having to come to a building or phone in.

“The recommendations in the report are based on 10 months of in-depth research, feasibility studies, surveys and more. Next week’s Cabinet represents the next step in this process. Any recommendations will then have to be taken by Full Council and this will kick-start more detailed engagement.

“It’s likely that the process and direction of travel will change based on the outcome of those conversations over the coming months.”