Back to office crisis mounts

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We need to get back to the office and meet face to face. That's Jim's view in his latest blog as the debate over home working hots up. Jim also pays tribute to the late Lord Smith of Wigan. He had a low profile but was one of the great figures in North West local government over the last 40 years.

On the radio the other day a young woman was nearly in tears recounting the following experience. Before Covid she had moved from her parents’ home in the North to a busy office in London. She enjoyed the interaction with her office colleagues. That all came to an abrupt end in March last year. For the last eighteen months she has had to work from her tiny bedsit. It is so small she had to sit on the bed when she is on her laptop. She had no opportunity to spark ideas or develop concepts that are not possible on the dreaded zoom calls.

She has now come back North. Why? Because it was obvious that plans for future working at the company were being heavily influenced by older staff who were quite comfortable working from home. They had built their networks and salaries and probably quite like the opportunity to fit their work life around their family requirements.

Employers who give in to the stay at homers (SAHs) are in danger of creating big problems in the future. We are starting to see cases of SAH people who have not received the promotion they expected taking bosses to employment tribunals. I don’t know why. It seems obvious if you are not present in the office showing that extra spark, that ability to get on with colleagues, taking in the latest vibe; that you are going to be at a considerable disadvantage to those that are.

There has to be room for flexibility and things will never be quite the same again. A hybrid system perhaps involving one (max two) days a week at home might be appropriate. However, it won’t be available to all. Middle class office jobs will be suited to this model whilst the poor sods driving our buses, clearing the drains, and caring for the elderly won’t have the option of doing it from the comfort of their homes.

The government need to take a strong stand with their own civil servants and with the country as a whole. Instead of flirting with giving statutory right to stay at home, they need to support employers if they want to go as far as reduced pay for SAHs.

We need to support our city centre traders and get workers travelling in, preferably on the new Northern Powerhouse rail lines, but don’t get me started on that.

LORD PETER SMITH

I was sad to hear of the passing of Lord Smith of Wigan. He was one of the most significant figures in local government in the North West in the last 40 years, although his profile was low.

He led his local authority for 27 years and was leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) for 21 years.

His quiet ability to bring together ten competing local councils and make them see the wider picture provided the foundation for the Combined Authority we see today.

He was a moderate in Labour Party terms and avoided open personality clashes. I confess that sometimes I found him frustrating when looking for a colourful quote, but I respected his wisdom, diplomacy and dignity.

My condolences to his friends and family.

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