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Burch: staff may continue working from home

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, answers questions on a livestream

Ministry of Public Works staff could continue working from home after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the minister, said in an online question-and-answer period on Tuesday night that the response to the pandemic has helped to reveal potential cost savings.He said: “I don’t think the world is ever going to be the same as it was pre-coronavirus. We are never going back to that.“It has allowed us the opportunity to see what we could do differently, how we could save money.”Colonel Burch said a rota may be put in place so that some ministry engineers will work from home while others work from offices.He said engineers have worked well from home for the past ten weeks, and having fewer staff in the office would reduce costs and help ensure physical-distancing.Colonel Burch said: “We are looking at if it makes sense to continue to provide desk space for those 20 people and if there is a need for all 20 to be in the office at any particular time.”The minister said that by adding working from home to “natural outages” such as illness and training, the Government may not have to provide work spaces for every single employee.He said that the work stoppage by waste collection staff at the start of the shelter-in-place period was sparked by safety concerns.The minister said: “They were terrified for themselves and they were terrified for the sake of their families, so we decided that they would stay off work that week.”Colonel Burch added that, since then, staff had worked without issue and often more efficiently than before because of the lack of traffic.He said the Corporation of Hamilton had assisted with trash collection, which highlighted potential efficiencies that could be found if the Government took over the municipality.Colonel Burch said: “We are still in court with the corporation, but it makes no sense to have multiple bureaucracies in an island that’s 21 square miles. “It would make much more sense to have one entity to pick up garbage for the entire country.“If you look at it without the political bias, if common sense prevails, then it’s a no-brainer.”He added that efficiencies could also be made in water and sewage treatment, and that seven requests for proposals will be put out soon for such work in St David’s.Colonel Burch said: “Last summer we had water rationing in Southside, probably for the first time in recent memory. “The infrastructure is collapsing around us. It is the classic case of military bases around the globes. It’s in our own interest to replace that infrastructure as well as dealing with the challenges in St George’s and preparing for the new hotel to come online.”He said he believed the construction industry could be the “backbone” of the island’s economic activity and that the ministry would prioritise projects that would create jobs and stimulate the economy.The minister added: “The plan is almost employ every company in the country that does trenching. “Obviously, it needs to go out to tender and people have to bid and then we have to sharpen the pencil, but the idea is we are going to have trenching going on in St David’s by seven companies.”Colonel Burch said waste was not collected from some of the island’s public parks during the shelter-in-place period because staff were not considered essential services.The minister continued to voice irritation at those who do not follow waste collection rules and said measures will be taken to address it.Colonel Burch said: “The plan is already in operation. It’s now a matter of waiting enough time to have enough examples to take the action that is going to discourage folks from what they are doing.”He added that the demolition of the former Hamilton Police Station on Parliament Street had been delayed by the shelter-in-place, but work on the site has resumed this week.