Council staff at Bedford Corn Exchange, The Higgins and libraries step into other roles during pandemic

Workers providing help where needed during crisis
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Council staff at Bedford have stepped into other critical roles during the coronavirus crisis.

As their jobs are temporarily suspended after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered public places should close, staff have been redeployed.

Philip Simpkins, chief executive of Bedford Borough Council, said: “With services such as the Corn Exchange, The Higgins Bedford, and libraries closed in line with Government guidance, council staff have stepped up to take on other roles. This has seen staff helping the Customer Service Centre to answer enquiries from the public, and organising our Community Hub which is providing support to those most in need of help.

Bedford Borough Council (Google)Bedford Borough Council (Google)
Bedford Borough Council (Google)

“As a council we are all working to support the most vulnerable at this difficult time, and to keep delivering vital services, from bin crews to our carers and social workers. I would like to say a huge thank you to our staff, for all that they’ve done and will do over the coming weeks and months.”

However, one of the largest public sector unions says, nationally, it is concerned some will be thrust into jobs they lack expertise in.

GMB’s national officer Karen Leonard said: “Any role changes should be a reasonable alternative that matches the skill set and knowledge as closely as possible.

"Everyone wants to help, but safety has to be a priority. Let's apply some common sense."

While Unison, which represents 750,000 council staff across the UK, said nationally it had particular concern over people moving into refuse collection and adult social care.

“There are certain areas in adult social care that have particularly high-risk, vulnerable patients,” said its head of local government and education John Richards.

He added that any staff being asked to take on a more skilled job during the pandemic should be paid accordingly.

Public sector unions are urging councils not to pressurise workers into taking on new roles and to carry out strict risk assessments for those redeployed.

However, the Local Government Association said authorities were rising to the challenge.

A spokesman said: “Council staff are stepping up to this unprecedented challenge and are having to be flexible to ensure that vital local services can be maintained.

“They continue to do an amazing job in hugely challenging circumstances.”