Cabinet gives green light to Office Optimisation plans
19 January 2024
Plans to bring more council services together into a central office in Northampton, whilst safeguarding the town’s historic civic traditions, received the go-ahead this week.
At their meeting this week (Tuesday, 16 January) West Northamptonshire Council’s Cabinet members agreed proposals to move the majority of its back-office workers to its Northampton base in One Angel Square (OAS) with key sites in Daventry and Towcester continuing as local hubs where customers can access support and help.
Under the proposals, WNC staff currently based in the modern part of the Guildhall will relocate to OAS with the exception of the Coroner's service which will relocate to the historic part of the Guildhall. The historic Guildhall building will continue to be the democratic heart of West Northamptonshire and host civic and ceremonial events and activities, including continuing as the home to the Mayor of Northampton.
Northampton Town Council (NTC), a new council which covers parts of the town, was formed alongside WNC as part of government reorganisation in April 2021. WNC put in place a licence for NTC for to use part of the historic Guildhall for three years while it established itself and its plans. WNC has now agreed to extend this license by 12 months whilst NTC identifies suitable alternative accommodation. WNC is working with NTC on this, but the town Council will move from the Guildhall in early 2025. This will allow the Northamptonshire Coroner’s service to be based in the historic building where it currently holds Coroner’s Courts for the County. This is a historic service itself dating back to the 1100’s.
Some WNC teams currently working from The Forum in Towcester will relocate to OAS in stages during 2024 and early 2025 and Northampton’s One Stop Shop will also move from the Guildhall to the lower ground floor of OAS, resulting in a more modern and accessible service for residents.
The proposals are expected to save taxpayers at least £350,000 a year initially, increasing as the rationalisation of property and new ways of working bed in. It follows a thorough review which identified that WNC has significantly more office space than it requires, along with a need to change how it uses its buildings to better support residents. The Review also looked at the potential to rent space and the cost to convert and refurbish space. None of these offered taxpayers the value for money that the approved proposal will now deliver.
“As we adapt to the challenges across public services, it’s important we do not waste valuable taxpayers' money on things like surplus office space and that we make plans to reduce office space and maintenance costs. But it’s not just a financial decision; it's about bringing our teams closer, so they can work even better together, and that we ensure we adapt our services and locations to reflect residents’ needs.Cllr Jonathan Nunn, Leader of West Northamptonshire Council
“The plans moving forward in 2024 maximise the use of our building spaces but also recognise the importance of protecting our heritage and maintaining ceremonial and civic traditions, as seen in our plans for the historic Guildhall, and ensuring Mayors can continue to use the historic section of the Guildhall. Whilst the office of the Mayor is far older than the building – dating back to 1215 – welecome the opportunity to continue the association of the Mayor with the building.
“These plans also align with our goal to be net zero by 2030, with OAS being the most energy efficient of all the councils' offices.
“Alongside these changes, we are reshaping and improving our service provision for residents in local communities across West Northants, working with partner public services in hubs at places our residents already access in their neighbourhoods such as libraries. We also have outreach teams from various departments who visit communities, taking our services out to residents. The expansion and development of locality hubs in Towcester and Daventry reflect our commitment to adapting to the needs of our community.
“While we want customers to be able to do more online and are working to make this simpler, we also know that many people face complicated circumstances and need to access multiple services for support. The existing Northampton One Stop Shop is one of the busiest we have but it cannot expand to meet the growing complexity of some customers' needs. Currently, some customers have to move between the Guildhall and OAS to see our different services and many of our adult and children's services visitors can be vulnerable and emotional. Neither the current Guildhall One Stop Shop or the existing OAS facilities are suitable for these kind of visitors and in the new One Stop Shop, we will have private rooms and facilities to allow more teams to work with vulnerable residents. This, coupled with our existing customer outreach sessions, will mean we can support vulnerable people more effectively."
The plans follow the successful relocation of services from Lodge Road, Daventry in the summer, and the development of the nearby Abbey Centre into a locality hub including Adults, Children’s and other frontline WNC services joining community and voluntary partners.