Council says remote working will save £200,000 a year on mileage

Remote working to be permanent at Cambs County Council

Cambs County Council met (left) at Duxford because of Covid, not having space (right) at Shire Hall. But (centre) a new HQ has been ‘topped out’ at Alconbury; a post-pandemic world will, however, change working practices. - Credit: Archant/CCC

Up to £200,000 a year is forecast to be saved by Cambridgeshire County Council on mileage alone after a ‘cultural shift’ towards home working.  

The savings were reported to the council's general purposes committee prior to May’s elections when it was reported that lockdown had saved £546,000 in mileage costs for the past year.  

“We have seen a significant reduction in staff car mileage since the start of the 2020/2021 financial year,” said a report by officers.  

“This was predominately due to council staff having to work from home because of the Coronavirus pandemic.  

“This has resulted in a cultural shift for the organisation towards travelling less and enabling successful remote working with our colleagues while still serving the needs of our residents.” 

Councillors agreed that “this is an opportunity to reduce staff mileage budgets longer term across all council service areas for 2021/2022”.  

Finance business partners Jonathan Trayer and Richard Kean said: “This is an opportunity to reduce staff mileage budgets on a permanent basis. 

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“It will enable a saving of £564,000 to be realised for the 2021/22 financial year and £186,000 thereafter to support the budget deficit.  

“The pandemic has accelerated a cultural and behavioural shift for the organisation towards working remotely and travelling less, while still being able to successfully serve the needs of our residents.” 

Their report said: “Working remotely has reduced the commuting time for staff. A reduction in staff travel will also help the council to deliver its pledge of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  

“Low carbon transport is one of the priority areas in the council’s climate change and environment strategy. 

“That has a specific action to ‘encourage staff to use public transport or cycle where possible to minimise other business travel carbon emissions’”.  

Data from the mileage and expenses claims system shows that staff travelled over five million miles in 2019-20, which accounted for 1,803 tonnes CO2e greenhouse gas emissions.  

“This is already a sizeable reduction from the previous year (6.3m miles, 2,292 tonnes CO2e in 2018-19).  

“There is a council target to reduce our indirect emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and so future work in this area will look at sustainable travel for work more strategically.” 

Options could include increasing the council’s use of pool or hire cars (which could be electric). 

The officers said their assumptions take into account that there is likely to be a significant increase in travel post-COVID given that many of the council’s services work effectively face to-face “and our operating model is centred on being close to our communities”. 

They added: “However, it is recognised that the pandemic has also rapidly increased usage of digital meeting and video conferencing tools.  

“As such we do not expect that staff mileage will ever return to previously seen levels because of these technological advances.” 

They note that the council is investing in Information Technology, digital tools and techniques and our data capabilities to enable improvements to remote working.  

And of those in remote parts of Cambridgeshire, the report adds that “there are no disproportionate effects on those with protected characteristics.  

“It is recognised that staff are located across the county and beyond, but staff mileage budgets are not being permanently removed, just reduced.  

“Staff are already encouraged to think of alternative modes of transport and these messages can be incorporated into the communication about reduction of staff mileage budgets.  

“This forms part of the wider strategy on How we Work and will continue to be developed as new ways of working emerge”.  

The report says the “extensive and abrupt” shift in working practices as a result of the pandemic provides a key opportunity to accelerate the cultural shift towards remote working.  

“It is unlikely that such an opportunity will be presented in the future given there will be a gradual return to office-based working (albeit likely to be lower than pre-COVID-19 times),” says the report.  

“So, it is an appropriate time to act and ensure we are encouraging more sustainable ways of working.  

“However, we need to ensure that the advantages of reducing travel are balanced with the need to work closely with our communities; the financial target for this saving has therefore been set at a conservative level to take full account of this requirement”. 

Budgets for cycling and motorbike allowances are currently at 20p and 24p per mile respectively.