Selling off or leasing out Southend Civic Centre a possibility

Southend’s Civic Centre could be sold off or leased to private companies because the council’s 1,300-strong workforce will largely continue working from home.

Most of the landmark Civic Centre, in Victoria Avenue, Southend, is entirely empty and not likely to be occupied any time soon because officers have proved they can work effectively at home.

Speaking at a policy and resources scrutiny committee meeting, Joanna Ruffle, director of transformation at the council, said there were no plans for a “hard cut off” of working from home and 1,300 staff were not expected to all return to work.

She said: “We conducted a staff survey looking at an future ways of working. We’ve engaged with staff to look at what has been positive about working from home but also what has been not so positive.

“In terms of productivity we are not aware of anything that hasn’t happened, other than the obvious things that can’t happen because a Covid like the libraries and museums being closed. I also can report that our sickness , ironically during a pandemic, has been the lowest it has been in the 17 years I have been here.”

Ms Ruffle reported staff also spent less time and commuting and travelling, which had a positive impact on the environment.

John Lamb, Conservative councillor for West Leigh ward, said: “If we are going down the lines of more remote working and people working from home, what plans have we put in place to lease off our excess space so that we can start to earn from that and make sure that in fact we’re bringing others in and maintaining security at the same time?”

Cllr Ian Gilbert, Labour leader of the council, replied: “It’s difficult to project just exactly how much space we are going to need in a year, two years, three years’ time. Of course the council has already looked for opportunities to generate revenue from its office facilities.

“We’ve brought the clinical commissioning group for example and no doubt will look for any other of those that can be done in the short-term. In the long term we are going to have to take a view about whether this building is actually necessary and right for us to provide the council services in the long term.

“I really don’t think we are at a point to be making any decisions but I know our team is always alive to any commercial opportunities whenever they come forward.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter