Plan to close council offices in Chesterfield slammed as 'idiotic, shoddy and disrespectful'

A move to close all county council offices in Chesterfield and transfer 500 staff has been criticised as “idiotic, shoddy and disrespectful”.
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Now opposition group leaders and the borough’s MP have given their views on the proposals, which would see more than 500 staff shifted to a new modern complex in the former Royal Mail offices in Dock Walk, off Boythorpe Road.

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This includes a fear that services will be cut back, that residents may find it more difficult to access services, that the move could cost the council more in the long run, and that it shows Chesterfield is not a priority for the authority.

The Peter Webster Centre on Sheffield Road, Chesterfield, is one of a number of council properties ear-marked for clsoure. Image: GoogleThe Peter Webster Centre on Sheffield Road, Chesterfield, is one of a number of council properties ear-marked for clsoure. Image: Google
The Peter Webster Centre on Sheffield Road, Chesterfield, is one of a number of council properties ear-marked for clsoure. Image: Google

Cllr Joan Dixon, Labour Group leader on the council, said: “These are the sorts of decisions the county council is going to have to make with us heading towards a cliff in 2025 in terms of finances.

“We do own a lot of properties and a lot of them aren’t fit for purpose anymore. A lot has changed with the pandemic and home working. There are around 500 people working at County Hall now when there used to be 2,500.

“My concern is that we as a county council don’t offer much in terms of community services now and community groups and arts groups do use some of these 10 buildings.

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“As far as I’m aware they have not yet been told about the decision and there has not been work to find alternative provision for those groups.

“There is not a lot in the way of community services left provided by the council and we are possibly losing more of that. My concern is that from Staveley and Clay Cross to Boythorpe is a hell of a long way. Closing those services will mean residents there will have to travel further afield.”

Cllr Ed Fordham, the council’s Liberal Democrat Group leader, called the plans “idiotic” and claimed the move would prove to be a bad financial decision in the next few years.

He said: “This is putting Derbyshire County Council up for sale and it should have been discussed by council before cabinet. We knew when the Conservatives were elected there was a risk they would sell the family silverware but not to sell all the furniture and to downsize to a bungalow. At some point in the future there will be a restructure and the return of local offices and we will have to look to reopen them in places like Chesterfield and Swadlincote.”

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Cllr Alex Stevenson, the Reform UK Group’s deputy leader on the council, said: “I am not happy about this situation at all. The council appears to be working against the people of Derbyshire.

“We need Derbyshire to be more local within the community. I also fear, long term, jobs will be lost.”

Cllr Gez Kinsella, the council’s Green Party councillor, said: “Employing new flexible ways of working, combined with moving to a modern, centralised workplace, seems to make sense. Plus, the savings the council could make means it could be a positive move.

“However, this is another example of the Conservatives imposing changes without fully considering the impact on employees, service users and the community. Sadly, listening and acting on people’s concerns isn’t something this Conservative administration does.”

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Toby Perkins, Chesterfield MP, said: “The plans to close ten Derbyshire County Council offices – with nine of them within Chesterfield – without any details on what happens to staff and services is a shoddy and disrespectful way to treat council employees and local people who rely on these services.

“I know my constituents will take a dim view of so many closures being proposed for Chesterfield, but Chesterfield has become used to being a low-priority area for the Conservative leadership at Derbyshire County Council.”

In response, Conservative Cllr Simon Spencer, deputy leader of the county council and cabinet member overseeing the authority’s budget, said any idea that services were to be reduced was “totally unfounded and incorrect”, giving his assurances that none would be cut back through the office proposals.

He said: “We know there are a lot of community groups who use some of the centres, particularly the Peter Webster Centre. It is my role to find them alternative provision and I can give you my assurance on that right now.”

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Cllr Spencer continued: “Many services are delivered by staff working from home already. This is about rationalisation of the service as a whole and it is about bringing these services together in 21st century facilities, with car parking and in a sustainable location.

“The new offices will have all the things you would expect of a modern office space in the 21st century. We would have two changing spaces facilities for disabled users, which is something we don’t have at the moment.

“Just because staff are working from this new office building doesn’t mean staff won’t go out into the community like they already do, to satellite offices, including Clay Cross library.

“We are reducing our overall costs and moving out of buildings that are not fit for the purpose, that were not designed for what they have been used for over the years. It will bring social services together.”

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Cllr Spencer claimed managers have been kept in the loop about discussions over the office closures and that all affected staff will be protected under their existing employment contracts.

Consultation and further discussions will take place over the next weeks and months, he said, including with trade union officials representing staff.

Cllr Spencer said the idea that the authority was treating Chesterfield as a lower priority through the move was “complete and utter nonsense”.

The 10 offices that will be closed are: Market Hall, Chesterfield; Offices at School Road; Former Hasland Youth Centre; West Street Offices; Peter Webster Centre; Hunloke Centre; Brimington Centre; Chesterfield Community Centre (Tontine Road); Offices at High Street, Staveley and Clay Cross Resource Centre