Council staff may continue working from home after the pandemic – and the local authority will look at whether some meetings can still be held remotely.
City of York Council has already earmarked an extra £350,000 income from renting out space in its headquarters at West Offices. It means other organisations might rent out offices previously used by council staff.
Council meetings, including public meetings such as planning decisions, currently take place by webcast. But this is only allowed under temporary Government guidance, which expires at the start of May.
Officers say they have had no update, so are planning for meetings to begin in person from 7 May even though lockdown rules encourage working from home until 21 June.
Cllr Ashley Mason said holding meetings remotely “has brought huge benefits” for councillors who have day jobs and that a review should be carried out into the upsides and restrictions of virtual meetings.
Neil Ferris, council director of economy, said it is better for the environment if councillors and officers are not commuting as often.
Hurt city centre businesses
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw acknowledged there are benefits to remote meetings, which he said could be more accessible for some residents. But he asked if the impact of remote working could hurt city centre businesses whose customers are often office staff.
Mr Ferris said: “We’re seeing all the big national companies, Fujitsu, Lloyd’s, HSBC and others, they’re all announcing that they’re going to reduce their office requirements.
“We’re hearing from developers in the city that lots of office space businesses are looking to downsize.”
He said he believes York will benefit from this and carve out a “niche” because the city has a lot of small offices, rather than large open-plan workplaces. He added that people are likely to work two or three days a week in the office in future.
Cllr Crawshaw said: “We probably need to start thinking about what the positives have been about working remotely and what might benefits a possible hybrid approach may give, or do we want to return to entirely physical meetings in West Offices.”
“We need to actually start thinking about what is and isn’t physically possible, and what is and isn’t desirable, both for us as councillors but more importantly for residents of the city in terms of their ability to interact with us and and see the business of the council happening in an open format.”