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Update 26.08.20

Update: Wednesday 26th August 2020

Message from the Chief Executive for all council staff

Dear Colleagues,

As you may be aware, managers have been asked to review who needs to return to Council office buildings from next week.

Welsh Government guidance remains that all staff should continue to work from home – and that remains the default position, only returning when there is a compelling reason to be in the office. This is fundamentally around the business needs of a service; but also takes account of the personal circumstances of the individual.

Based on a careful analysis of the position and a survey of staff, we have decided to take the incremental step of allowing some staff to return to the office from 1 September. 

However, public access to the Civic Centre in Port Talbot (elsewhere buildings remain closed to the public for the most part) will be strictly limited and by appointment only in the vast majority of cases. These appointments will take place whenever possible on a Wednesday, although one or two services may use different days. 

We have identified some services (e.g. the receivership section) which require access to service users and others where the nature of the service requires, for example, the service user to provide proof of identity. Nonetheless and wherever possible, all services will deliver with the absolute minimum of face-to-face contact and strict social distancing. Accordingly, please direct service users to our digital and telephone channels wherever possible.

I do, of course, recognise that working from home has been more difficult for some than others during the lockdown and I am asking Heads of Service and Accountable Managers to adopt a case-by-case approach to this matter. However, I must stress that the personal preference of the individual will not be a determining factor. In other words, you won’t be allowed back to the office just because you want to return. Staff should discuss these issues with their line managers in the first instance.

The Council has a responsibility to all staff to provide a safe working environment; but we all have responsibilities to each other in this regard as well. Elected Members are playing their part insofar as the three political group leaders have already agreed that Council meetings will continue remotely in line with Welsh Government regulations.

I am determined to ensure that safety remains paramount to the maximum extent possible in the current circumstances. From my discussions with the trade unions I know that I have their full support for this approach. Accordingly, I am looking to everyone to play their part in making this work.

At present, the rates of community infection are very low; but these arrangements will be kept under constant review to ensure that they remain fit for purpose. I make no predictions for the autumn/winter regarding a second wave of the virus; but it is public knowledge that infection rates have risen in the last month (sharply in other parts of the UK) so we cannot be too careful. 

Much of this is common sense – regular handwashing, respecting social distancing and so forth. There is also comprehensive guidance (both Return to Work and Working from Home) available. But human beings are social animals and, for those returning to the office, there will be the temptation to congregate in communal areas, chat in groups to people you haven’t seen for months or have meetings instead of using the Teams facility. PLEASE DON’T.

The Elected Members and senior management have been extremely grateful for the outstanding efforts of staff during lockdown to keep essential Council services running. We are now looking to you all to adopt a similar approach to these new circumstances.

Yours sincerely (and continue to keep safe),

Steve Phillips

Chief Executive