Opposition hit out at the lack of council staff working in Harborough council's headquarters

Lib Dems say they believe only around 20 staff work in the building at one time.
Symington BuildingSymington Building
Symington Building

Liberal Democrats have hit out at the lack of council staff working in Harborough’s Symington building.

Local councillors say only 15 to 20 staff work in the building – a former Victorian corset factory – at any one time, with all others based at home.

Party leader Cllr Phil Knowles says the Lib Dems will now be launching a public consultation into the uses, accessibility and services available in the building, which is also home to Harborough Museum, Market Harborough library, Leicestershire County Council, Citizens Advice, an ice cream parlour and coffee shop, among other services.

Cllr Knowles told the Mail: “We are in the situation where the building has only - according to information I have been given - around 15 to 20 members of staff who are working in it at any one time. All other staff are working from home. Public walk-in opportunities to talk with staff, pay council tax or explore questions are virtually non-existent.

“The Symington Building has been at the heart of the district as a council headquarters for many years. Residents have expectations on services from their district council - we need to know how the public feel, what are their expectations and aspirations.

"We hope our consultation will achieve all of this and more. We want to hear from residents of their experiences. We want to hear their ideas.”

But district council leader Cllr Phil King slammed the move ahead of the council’s budget setting period. He said pre-pandemic there were few residents who visited the council offices and it would not prove cost effective for more staff to be based onsite.

He said: “It is disappointing that opposition councillors are focused upon access to the council and its staff, as the council approaches a challenging budget setting period.

"In recent years, prior to the pandemic, there was already a marked reduction in ‘walk-in’ customer contact, and when we surveyed residents at the end of 2021, as part of setting our new corporate plan, only 7.5 per cent said they visited the council offices in person. However, we regularly review our assets to ensure they continue to meet the needs of our residents.

"We also review our working practices, which have adapted to maintain business continuity in light of Covid without compromising on service effectiveness. We have continued to ensure residents who find that they still need a face-to-face appointment can get one.

“We need to recall that most of The Symington Building, a multi-functional, listed building, is let out and occupied by other organisations and businesses, on commercial terms, so helping to reduce the burden of operating this iconic former factory for local taxpayers. These business needs also need to be considered in any future plans. We are all dealing with an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, and the council will continue to ensure it delivers its services in the most cost-effective way; and regularly reviewing our public assets is key to that.”