Babergh council staff in limbo as union talks over office relocation continue

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich

Unison will consult its members today following negotiations with Babergh District Council, after a tumultuous sequence of events that left many staff in limbo over their upcoming relocation.

The public sector union is set to brief members working at the council on a proposed arrangement for new terms and conditions, as Babergh District Council prepares to move from its current office in Corks Lane, Hadleigh, to Endeavour House in Ipswich, along with Mid Suffolk District Council.

Union members decisively rejected previously-proposed changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, which would have seen the loss of their contractual free parking at the new office – a change which critics said would leave council staff footing the bill for the relocation.

In a Unison ballot which ended earlier this month, the proposed changes were rejected by 78.5 per cent of respondents, on a turnout of 69 per cent.

Council staff were then issued with redundancy letters last week, with the offer of continued employment at the new Ipswich headquarters under the terms and conditions which had been rejected.

Subsequently, Unison and the district councils returned to the negotiating table and have drawn up a new proposal, and staff will be asked to give their views on it this week.

Sam Leigh, regional organiser for Unison, said: “The ballot result meant we couldn’t enter a collective agreement with the council.

“Since then, we have met with Babergh and Mid Suffolk to try to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.”

A spokeswoman for Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils said it originally anticipated moving staff to the new office over several weekends from September 18, but now expects this to begin on September 30.

The councils declined to comment further on the matter while negotiations are still ongoing.

Newly-elected Labour councillor Luke Cresswell, who won this month’s Babergh District Council by-election for the Sudbury South Ward, argued that “few staff seem to be enthusiastic” about the office relocation.

He urged the council to offer conditions which ensured that staff would not have a big increase in personal expenses following the move.

“Babergh is expecting its staff to accept arrangements which do not properly compensate them for travelling to Ipswich, rather than Hadleigh,” said Cllr Cresswell.

“Public sector workers have had to endure a long period of a pay cap and now they are having their free parking taken away from them.

“The employees should not have to pay the price for an ill-thought out, shambolic relocation to Ipswich, which in no way improves or maintains the link between local people and the council that it is supposed to be working for.

“The slogan of Babergh and Mid Suffolk is ‘Working Together’, but, unfortunately, what the two council leaderships want is to work together with other leaderships in the Ipswich bunker, not working together with their staff to serve the people of their districts.”

Babergh District Council has previously stated that a customer access point will be maintained at Sudbury Town Hall after the relocation.