Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Knowle relocation project: 'modern working practices' >>> Of Worksmart, Hubs and Hot-desking

The full council of the District Council will be meeting tomorrow,
Agenda for CouncilWednesday, 21 December 2016; 6.30pm

To what extent it will be rubber-stamping the Cabinet's own rubber-stamping of the relocation report will be a point to observe:

And one of the main reasons given for relocating - besides the 'need' referred to in the Cabinet report and the 'savings' not referred to in the Cabinet report - was the promise of 'modern working practices':
Tory council insists costly move of East Devon Council HQ is a money saver | Western Morning News

There have been a couple of FOI requests asking about the issues:
Hot-desking - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Opportunities for service provision in locations across the District - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
District Council costing the provision of hubs - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Costs of Knowle Relocation Project - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Looking at the District Council Leader's Christmas message from two years ago, it was all about 'new improved ways of working':

“We are passionate about East Devon” says council Leader Paul Diviani

When this content has been created

14 December 2015

New improved ways of working will make us a leaner and more efficient modern council says the Leader of East Devon District Council, Councillor Paul Diviani in his Christmas message

A friend of mine recently told me that when she first moved to East Devon to take up a new job, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Even now, having lived here for 12 years, she says she still wakes up every morning thinking how unbelievably lucky she is to live and work in such a wonderful place. 
East Devon inspires this level of passion in people and no more so than in myself, my fellow councillors and the officers of East Devon District Council. We are all passionate about the work that we do and, above all, we want to ensure that East Devon remains a fantastic place for people - like us- to live in, work, visit and enjoy. 
So over the next four years we will be rising to meet the many challenges that reduced funding and increased demands on our services brings. In order to make necessary savings of of £2.6m, we will be using new ways of working, involving systems thinking principles and our ‘WorkSmart‘ approach, which together harness the latest technology and modern working practices. Our move from Knowle to new accommodation in Honiton and Exmouth is part of this plan and will help us become a modern day council in every sense of the word. 
All of this will make us leaner, more efficient and better placed to deliver the kind of service that we know you, the residents of East Devon want. We are keen to keep improving and to help us do so, we will be listening to what you have to say in consultations and through our viewpoint surveys. 
Great services and great service, first time and every time is the standard that we have set for ourselves. To do that we need to be bold, creative, open and innovative, but above all we must pull together as one council. These are values that set us apart and make the council a place where people want to work - in fact, over 93% of our staff said they would recommend the council as a place to work! 
We will be prioritising a culture of openness and transparency by keeping our residents fully informed and are fully committed to innovative ways of working and commercial thinking, including an improved digital service to give our customers the chance to self serve.
14 December 2015 - “We are passionate about East Devon” says council Leader Paul Diviani - East Devon

The press release following the earlier confirmation of the 'need' to relocate had pressed home the same points:

Council gives green light for Knowle exit

When this content has been created

26 March 2015

Moving and Improving project approval signals move to Honiton and Exmouth

East Devon District Council WILL be moving out of its ageing offices at Sidmouth for purpose-built and modernised accommodation at Honiton and Exmouth respectively.

After a lengthy debate last night (Wednesday 25 March) Full Council voted by a significant majority that the authority should sell its Knowle headquarters in Sidmouth and move to the dual-site solution at Honiton and Exmouth.

This vote formally gives the green light for officers to proceed towards concluding the council’s long-standing Moving and Improving project, with an estimated delivery date of mid 2017.

High costs

The costs of heating, maintaining and repairing Knowle and converting it to accommodation fit for new ways of working are high – and would mean spending money on an asset with no value.

By contrast, the dual-site option of purpose-built offices at Honiton and refurbished accommodation at Exmouth Town Hall ticks all the right boxes in terms of location, suitability for agile working, greater resilience and future-proofing against challenges that lie ahead – not least of which is continuing budgetary pressures.

In last night’s vote, Members accepted recommendations in a report to Cabinet from Deputy Chief Executive Richard Cohen seeking permission to progress with the sale of the Knowle development site for between seven and eight million pounds. The exact figure remains commercially confidential at the request of the would-be buyer.

The report explains that figures supporting the case for a move have been modelled in co-operation with the council’s independent external auditors, Grant Thornton. Internal auditors the South West Audit Partnership have also examined the project’s governance and process.


Fundamental to the move is EDDC’s desire to move away from traditional working practices that are both expensive and wasteful. Investing in the working environment, technology, business processes and flexible working practices will realise the benefits of lower operating costs, high productivity and better services for our residents.

The council’s Worksmart approach will help it to move away from traditional ways of desk-bound working. New ways of working mean that increasingly work will take place at the most effective locations respecting the needs of the task, the customer, the individual and the team. Properly equipped mobile officers will be able to operate more efficiently; the use of surgeries across the district will continue to manage local demand; and an improving website, plus other applications, will offer a greater number of online transactional services.
Full Council heard that costings calculated by the project team support the case for a move. The most cost-effective option is to refurbish Exmouth Town Hall and a new-build office at Honiton Heathpark. Options of Honiton alone and combined with Exmouth are all more cost-effective than staying at Knowle with ‘do minimum’ investment, let alone any significant modernisation.

Over the 20-year period the district will be £2.8m better off if the Council moves. This compares with being £3.9m worse off by staying and carrying out ‘do minimum’ investment works at Knowle.


Commenting on the decision to confirm the move, Councillor Paul DivianiLeader of EDDC, said:
I’m pleased that we can give the residents of East Devon, many of whom will be voting in district elections on 7 May, a clear and transparent picture of our intentions after many years of careful consideration and fine-tuning to find the most effective solution. Whilst this approach has been prudent, it has inevitably caused uncertainty for our towns and especially for our employees. 
This project is all about giving our residents, businesses and visitors the best possible service at the least possible cost. We know there is more austerity on the way and that our council – like others up and down the country – has to find more and more creative ways of saving costs and becoming more efficient. Our customers want good service without hikes in council tax. 
How strange would it be for our residents to see us making piecemeal changes here and there to save relatively small amounts of money in each service, whilst pouring scarce funds into an unsuitable building that will have no value? By thinking ahead – and outside the box – we have given ourselves the chance of moving to accommodation that supports modern working practices, will reduce operating costs and will prove an investment for the future. 
This has been described by some cynics as a vanity project. It’s not – it’s a sanity project! 
I’m delighted that my fellow councillors have decided to grasp this fantastic opportunity and I now feel confident that we will be able to continue giving our customers the service they deserve, at a price they can afford. 
A move away from a site in Sidmouth that has been the council’s home since 1974 has been on the cards for at least seven years.

In line with many other public bodies and councils up and down the country, East Devon District Council’s Moving and Improving project is designed to maximise the value of the council’s property asset and minimise running costs, whilst at the same time delivering outstanding service to residents. To do this EDDC needs accommodation that will give Staff and Members the best possible future-proofed, flexible space from which to work.

26 March 2015 - Council gives green light for Knowle exit - East Devon

The problem is that the District Council is not able to explain how its 'future-proofed, flexible space' will work in practice. 


Firstly, it claims that no one wants to visit its offices anyway:
Residents to be discouraged from visiting new EDDC HQ | Sidmouth Independent News


Then there is the failure to undertake a thorough service review, a feasibility and a proper audit study of their service first. To quote from an observation made back in 2015:

"They keep referring to modern trends such as hubs and hot-desking but don't actually understand the implications. For instance a local authority officer is no mars bar salesman or white van drivers and as service providers they need a defined base where they are contactable at short notice. How many jobs at the Knowle therefore are suitable for hot desking? (Probably very few! etc)"


It is understood that the District Council undertook a study to see how many jobs were applicable for “hot-desking” and working from home etc. The result was that only six posts out of the whole Knowle staff were appropriate: 
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: looking after the staff

An earlier blog entry looked at further issues on the subject:




Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the promise of 'hubs' and putting the cart before the horse

So, with the District Council retrenching to the old buildings at Knowle and Exmouth, perhaps there also needs to be some reflection on these fashionable and expensive 'modern working practices':
Futures Forum: The unravelling of projects in East Devon

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