A REGIONAL body should take advantage of the growth of remote working and recruit people who live further away from its Birmingham base, a Shropshire councillor has argued.

Alex Phillips, who represents Bagley, told a West Midlands Combined Authority meeting there were “talented PAs who live in Oswestry” and could work effectively for it “without ever needing to come into the office”.

He said the WMCA could “extend its reach” this way, and it would help justify Shropshire Council’s £25,000 annual fee it pays for “non-constituent” membership.

He was speaking as the Audit, Risk and Assurance Committee discussed a report by HR chief Tracy Walters titled “Covid-19 and support to promote staff wellbeing whilst remote working”.

In it, Ms Walters wrote that almost all staff were moved to home working when the coronavirus pandemic started, and outlined how the WMCA has supported them and promoted wellbeing.

She said the authority had “demonstrated our ability to work productively from home” with staff “enjoying the benefits of remote working” too.

Cllr Phillips, a deputy portfolio holder at Shropshire Council, said: “There are some jobs which are particularly suited to working from home. And, just maybe, we could look at the way the WMCA could extend its reach.

“As a member of a non-constituent authority, I’m sure we have, for example, quite a few talented PAs who live in Oswestry who would be perfectly able to do the job for WMCA officers in Birmingham without ever needing to come into the office.

“I’m just wondering if there’s scope for widening the recruitment areas and advertising more widely so people in the outer regions of the WMCA non-constituents can feel more of the direct benefits.”

He added that it would also allow Shropshire Council “to give a bigger demonstration of how the WMCA is benefitting us”.

Ms Walters praised the idea, pointing out that “virtual assistants” have existed in the private sector for a long time, but they had not yet caught on in local or regional government.

Cllr Phillips also asked whether the WMCA was planning to “downsize its offices, use far less space and sublet”.

“Certainly, in Shropshire that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

“We’re probably looking to go and sell our Shirehall buildings and move into a far smaller space in the town centre, have that open to the public, so it’s all visible presence, but at the same time it will have capacity for far fewer people than beforehand.

“The assumption will be a far higher amount of home working going forward with people occasionally going into the office for meeting or networking purposes.”

WMCA governance chief Tim Martin said the body was “looking very seriously” at those possibilities, but it had no settled plans.

Seven local authority areas, including Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton city councils, form the “constitute member” core of the WMCA, allowing their residents to vote in its mayoral elections. Shropshire, like Telford and Wrekin, is one of 10 “non-constituent members” and sends a representative to some of its meetings.