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Greens challenge demand staff ‘get back to work’ as government reintroduces work from home to respond to Omicron

Government failure to plan for new variants scuppers council plans to boost in-person options for staff and public

Greens have criticised opposition councillors after two proposals to Brighton and Hove City Council next week were published yesterday, 8 Dec, calling for council services to ‘get back to work.’

Their publication comes on the same evening the Prime Minister announced ‘Plan B’ measures, including asking people who can to work from home from Monday.

Labour’s proposals on the topic were originally due to be discussed in October, when the same council meeting had to be abandoned due to a councillor receiving a positive covid test during the meeting.

It acknowledges the challenges of the pandemic, but asks for staff to get ‘back to work’, despite council services continuing to operate throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

The Conservative motion on similar lines asks for an urgent plan to “restore council services” despite the continuing challenges of the pandemic on the running of council services and staff shortages.

Greens say the Government should have acted earlier to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and that all councillors should focus on the safety and wellbeing of staff, as well as members of the public, to ensure local services can stay afloat.

Cllr Sue Shanks, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board said:

“The idea that public service staff – who have been at the frontline of the pandemic, from NHS to council to fire and police- haven’t been ‘at work’ through the duration of the pandemic, is risible.

“The pandemic never left us and across all sectors in our city – from hospitality businesses to council services – increased levels of sickness, recruitment issues and staff shortages have changed some services since last year. Council teams have had to adapt to these incredibly challenging circumstances. Teams like our social workers and children’s teams and school staff have been working tirelessly in person, even at risk to themselves.

“As if to demonstrate the failed response to this pandemic nationally, the Prime Minister has today announced that everyone who can, should work from home from Monday. We cannot endorse the request from either the Labour or Conservative groups that suggests some council services that haven’t already been in-person, – as many have – are now ready to throw open their doors and guarantee full capacity in these circumstances. The safety and wellbeing of staff and public must come first for the benefit of everyone.

“As an employer the council reviews the impact of any new guidance around Covid-19, but suffice to say we are dismayed it has gotten to this point, and wish the government had acted earlier to slow the spread of Omicron.”

Cllr Hannah Clare, Deputy Leader and customer experience lead added:

“We know that there have been some difficulties for some accessing council services like parking at this time and for that we do apologise. We have made improvements to how council services are delivered, including reintroducing services at Brighton Customer Service Centre and putting more staff on the phones to answer calls.

“We have asked council staff to address the concerns that many of our residents have raised, but we must also recognise the challenges they continue to face due to the pandemic. We are also working with them to plan to how we better provide services in the future. Even prior to the pandemic we know that our services weren’t being delivered in the way our residents always wanted – including a desire for better digital access and ensuring that you don’t have to provide information from one council service to another.

“However, one of the key ways we can get council services working well for residents is to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to cause sickness, staff shortages and put members of the public and employees at risk.”

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