CAMBRIDGE City Council will consolidate its presence in the historic city centre base at The Guildhall and take forward transformation plans to change the way it delivers services. Tough decisions are necessary in response to funding uncertainty from government, high inflation and persistent falls in income due to Covid.
The council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 10 October acted to address the council’s financial challenges following 12 years of austerity and rising demand for services. Its Medium-Term Financial Strategy suggests that to balance its budget in five years, the savings required could rise to £11.5m per annum – around 30% of its spending.
Officers have been instructed to explore how to maximise the value of the council’s underused office and civic space to support frontline services, following a recent review which found occupancy at the council’s main office locations (the Guildhall, Mandela House and 171 Arbury Road) was at about 25% capacity, as many staff continue to work flexibly.
Detailed work will now be undertaken to compare options, including refurbishing existing buildings, leasing others for rent, as well as considering new or alternative accommodation. Retaining the Guildhall as the council’s main office and civic space was the clear preference expressed by councillors.
The council already has plans to create a new operational hub at Cowley Road by merging two existing sites, and in an initiative to support charities and social enterprises, Allia has established a Future Business Centre, in the Guildhall.
Cllr Mike Davey, Executive Councillor for Finance, Resources and Transformation, said: “Making efficient use of our buildings is vitally important. That is why we intend to arrange our office space to reflect new working practices, ensure it is cost-effective and achieves our target to become a net zero carbon council by 2030. We also appreciate the importance of the Guildhall as a much-treasured focus for the city’s civic and cultural activities.”
Cllr Anna Smith, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “This report emphasises the importance of the Guildhall to the city, not only symbolically but as something that can be opened up to serve our wider community. That’s why I’m so delighted with our current partnership with Allia, which is helping to use the Guildhall as a hub to revitalise the local economy after the impact of Covid lockdowns.
“But the report goes more broadly than that, at the bigger picture. So, we are looking at how we manage all of our council properties and assets to best fund and support our services, and I think that’s something people will expect us to be doing right now.”
The committee also endorsed proposals for the next phase of the council’s transformation programme ‘Our Cambridge’ which aims to create a more digitally enabled and efficient council delivering high quality services for residents. All councils across England face challenging financial situations and the programme aims to achieve £5m in savings over the next two financial years.
The council will continue its commitment to work with charities, businesses and other public sector organisations, to identify additional ways to share resources and collaborate. In keeping with the council’s vision of ‘One Cambridge – Fair For All’ the transformation programme has a clear focus on helping people in greatest need, tackling climate change and ensuring the financial stability of the council.
Cllr Davey added: “We are committed to making sure our council is fit for the future – that means operating within our budget, supporting residents with quality services and caring for our workforce. That’s why we’ve prioritised the substantial savings we need to achieve and to focus on how we can use technology and new ways of working to become more efficient.”