Monday, 15 August 2022

Town hall hit by staff shortage caused by illness and departures

Town hall hit by staff shortage caused by illness and departures

A STAFFING crisis has hit Henley Town Council.

Town clerk Janet Wheeler has warned that actions agreed by councillors won’t get done due to a shortage of officers and other staff caused by sickness and departures.

Committee administrator Cath Adams has gone to work for South Oxfordshire District Council and town sergeant Cliff Austin retired in August. One officer and a member of the council’s parks services team are on long-term sick leave and two park wardens have left.

Mrs Wheeler said: “We’re just about keeping up with agendas and minutes but actions are not getting done.

“We’re stretched to absolute bursting point. You can’t have hours that simply aren’t available.”

Her comments at a meeting of the council’s open and green spaces sub-committee followed a request to put an item on the agenda for the next meeting of the recreation and amenities committee.

Four days later, at a meeting of the town and community committee, plans to spend up to £70,000 on a machine to deep clean the York stone pavements in the town centre were effectively shelved because of the current demands on staff.

Councillor Will Hamilton proposed delegating power to Mrs Wheeler to investigate purchasing or hiring the machine and to liaise with South Oxfordshire district councillor Tony Harbour.

Mrs Wheeler responded: “Is there money in the budget to do any of this? Otherwise it’s a waste of my time to sit down with Tony Harbour.

“It’s quite a substantial investment. You want me to look at the purchasing, the hiring or the actual running and operating?

“If we’re going to do this we have got to get it in the budgets. What I’m saying is we’re very tight — I can’t spend a lot of hours on a project when you’re going to turn around and say, ‘we can’t afford it’.

“There’s simply not enough hours in the day. I’ll say now I don’t think they’ll be able to get it done.”

South Oxfordshire District Council is meant to provide five days of deep cleaning a year but this does not include washing the pavements or removing chewing gum.

A main cleanse and two small cleans are done by its contractor Biffa but its machine has broken down and not been replaced so it can no longer carry out a deep clean.

A report to the committee suggested that the town council should buy its own deep cleaning and chewing gum removal machine which would mean employing another member of staff or training an existing employee.

Two companies provided quotes, ranging from £50,000 to £68,000. A third provided a quote for a deep cleanse of Bell Street, Duke Street, Hart Street and Market Place for £22,000.

Councillor Ken Arlett said a machine would be a “waste of money”, adding: “It will be used once or twice and then put in a lock-up for six months and go rusty.”

Councillor David Eggleton suggested putting the project on the back burner in light of Mrs Wheeler’s comments.

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