HUNDREDS of local government staff have had to take time off work due to the coronavirus pandemic, St Helens Council has revealed.

Since the start of the outbreak, 24 people who work for the council – out of a workforce of 6,045 – have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Thirteen of those have now recovered.

READ > St Helens 'leading the way' on test, track and trace

The details were revealed in a presentation from chief executive Kath O’Dwyer and assistant chief executive Rob Huntington on the authority’s response to the coronavirus crisis at Wednesday’s first virtual cabinet meeting.

It was also revealed that the number of current absences relating to COVID-19 is 376.

Mr Huntington said: “We have got a number of COVID-related absences within the workforce. There’s 376 against a total workforce of just over 6,000.

“We have 11 employees currently diagnosed with COVID-19. 24 is the total number of employees who have been (diagnosed), with 13 now recovered.

“And we wish all those who have been diagnosed who may be suffering symptoms or will be suffering symptoms a quick recovery.”

Since the beginning of the outbreak in March, the council’s workforce, excluding essential services, have been working from home.

A significant number of staff have also volunteered, including those who are unable to do their usual roles, to be redeployed to services facing greater pressures.

To date, 164 members of staff have been redeployed to support key services.

Many of the people who have been redeployed have gone to the community hub at Sutton Leisure Centre, which is the heart of the operation to support the most vulnerable in St Helens.

Mr Huntington said there is now a greater need for supporting Public Health in its efforts around the government’s test, track and trace system.

St Helens Star: St Helens Town Hall has been out of action since the UK went into lockdownSt Helens Town Hall has been out of action since the UK went into lockdown

Looking beyond the pandemic, the council’s assistant chief executive hinted that going back to the old way of working is not on the cards.

Mr Huntington, who recently joined the council, said the council need to “amplify” this new way of working to support a “culture change” within the authority.

He said: “Following the announcement on the 23rd March, which again was unprecedented in terms of the lockdown, we actually asked all staff except those in what would be essential services, to work from home and not go into their workplaces until further notice.

“That is still the principal that stands. We are currently risk-assessing buildings to make sure they are safe workplaces.

“But actually, we don’t want to advocate a return to the workplace pre-COVID because we do actually want to change the way that we work as a result.

“The key point for me and the organisation really is that, we are an organisation that is predominantly working remotely, and it’s working well.

“There are a few outliers to that, which we’re addressing, but it’s working well.

“So, we need to amplify that way of working and use that to support any culture change that we wish to take forward.”

The council said “support, supervisions and effective performance management are in place for a more agile workforce”.

Cllr Kate Groucutt, cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communication, highlighted some recent investments the council has made to its back-office functions as part of its modernisation programme.

St Helens Star: Cllr Kate Groucutt, St Helens Council's cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communicationCllr Kate Groucutt, St Helens Council's cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communication

She said the decision taken last year to replace around 1,600 IT devices – at a cost of £1.5 million – was “incredible timely” and put the council in good stead to keep services running during the crisis.

Cllr Groucutt said: “I think if this had had happened a year ago, we couldn’t have kept so many staff working from home and kept services running in such an efficient way.

“But as Rob said, we have been on a journey of modernisation, recognising that things need to change. We need to be more responsive in order to deliver what the people of St Helens want.

“And the COVID crisis has really put a rocket under some of that work, but I want to reaffirm our commitment to that and making the council that can deliver a fairer borough and a place where people want to come and live.”