Tory MP’s attack on staff ‘deeply offensive’ says council leader 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and MP Jake Berry with (centre) New Shire Hall 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and MP Jake Berry with (centre) New Shire Hall - Credit: Archant

County council leader Lucy Nethsingha describes as “deeply offensive” a claim by a Tory MP that staff are refusing to return to work at the £18m New Shire Hall.  

Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, told The Daily Telegraph that “there is little or no reason whatsoever that people working for Cambridgeshire County Council should not go back to work. 

'We have seen Covid restrictions rolled back across the country and it beggars' belief that the only place they haven't heard about this is in Cambridgeshire.' 

But Cllr Nethsingha says she is “deeply angry at the comments in the article from the Daily Telegraph".   

She said: “Not only has New Shire Hall been open for public meetings since May last year, but the comment from Mr Berry that ‘people working for Cambridgeshire County Council should go back to work’ is deeply offensive.   

“Staff at Cambridgeshire County Council have worked incredibly hard over the past three years to support thousands of vulnerable people under extremely difficult circumstances.   

“To have this comment from a Conservative MP shows just how out of touch they are with the phenomenal efforts that all those working in public services have put in during the pandemic.” 

Most Read

Cllr Nethsingha added: “Our staff have worked above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic to keep people safe in their homes. 

“They have struggled with home schooling while coping with ever changing government advice and guidance.  “To have this implication that they should go back to work’ is disgraceful, and Mr Berry should apologise immediately. 

 “The main line, that ‘the new headquarters remains largely unused’ is also inaccurate, but it is the implication that staff have not been working if they are working from home that has really annoyed me.” 

New Shire Hall at Alconbury

New Shire Hall at Alconbury - Credit: Stephen Moir/Twitter

Newly appointed chief executive Stephen Moir answered critics in a tweet he put out yesterday.  

“Reflecting upon issues of work, workplace and workforce.  

“IMHO, work is what you do, let’s not confuse or conflate this with where you do it from,” he wrote. 

“Workplace can describe a range of settings & locations, some fixed, some variable, some virtual, so let’s instead focus on outcomes…” 

Cllr Nethsingha says she is also angry that other national papers are following up the story. 

She said even this morning she received an email from the Mail Online who said they have “picked up on reports that the county council's new headquarters remains largely unused due to lingering Covid regulations.  

“I have contacted the council's press office for official comment but as the leader of the council, I just wanted to get in touch to ask you if you thought this was the best use of a taxpayer funded building given that most organisations have dropped social distancing and WFH protocols?” 

The latest stories appear to have come following a report in this newspaper. 

We reported last month how officials admitted that a multi-function room at New Shire Hall, Alconbury, is not big enough for full meetings of Cambridgeshire County Council.  

Concerns include “limited space and the absence of a separate viewing area for the public,” councillors heard.  

The former Shire Hall, Cambridge admitted the public to a special seating area on the first-floor balcony. 

New Shire Hall opened last year but because of Covid-19 and social distancing, all council meetings have been held in public venues across the county. 

The council says a multi-function room formed part of the core design requirements for the New Shire Hall to provide a council committee room to replace the chamber and committee rooms at Shire Hall in Cambridge.  

“However, it was not intended to be a direct replacement as a dedicated council chamber,” councillors were told. 

“But as the name suggests, a multi-function room that could be put to other uses outside of council and committee meetings.” 

Labour leader Elisa Meschini  says there are plenty of staff work in the building including the council's chief executive who is in every day. 

"'I firmly believe that work is something you do - not a place you go," she added.