Joint Staff Consultative Committee Minutes

Wednesday, 30th September, 2015
Committee Room 1, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City

Attendance Details

Councillor Mrs A.G. Ashley (Chairman), Councillor Bernard Lovewell, Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham, S Forde(Unison), Mrs D Levett (Unison), Chris Carter (Staff Consultation Forum), C Corr (Staff Consultation Forum).
In attendance:
Corporate Human Resources Manager
Senior HR and Contracts Manager
Committee and Member Services Officer
Also Present:
Dee Levett - UNISON
Sharon Forde - UNISON
Chris Carter - SCF
Christina Corr - SCF
Item Description/Decision
Cllr Fiona Hill sent her apologies for absence, and advised that she was unable to arrange a substitute for this Meeting. Cllr Judi Billing was also unable to attend the JSCC Meeting.
It was agreed that the Minutes of the JSCC meeting held on 24 June 2015 be confirmed as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
No other business was put forward for discussion at this Meeting.
The Chairman welcomed all Members and officers to the meeting.

She informed those present that all Joint Staff Consultative Committee Meetings, commencing with this one, would be recorded in the future.

She then asked the Committee if the following statement could be taken as read, and they agreed to this:

‘Members were reminded that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda, should be declared as either a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest or Declarable Interest and they are required to notify the Chairman of the nature of any interest declared at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest must withdraw from the meeting for the duration of the item. Members declaring a Declarable Interest which requires they leave the room under Paragraph 7.4 of the Code of Conduct, can speak on the item, but must leave the room before the debate and vote.’
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) referred the JSCC to the Minutes of the meetings of the Staff Consultation Forum (SCF) held on 1 July, 5 August and the draft Minutes of 2 September 2015, for details of the meetings, matters discussed and actions taken.

The CHRM provided a summary of the main updates from each meeting as follows:

1 July 2015
Under Item 3 - Office Accommodation Update, the information given in the report was re-emphasised.

In the section on Employee Queries, a question was asked about some staff recycling boxes being changed and amalgamated, making them smaller and becoming overfilled.

The item entitled NHDC Update included questions on the office refurbishment in 2016 - would desks be available in the office for homeworkers? The CHRM advised that most staff who were homeworkers worked partially in the office and partially at home and desks would of course be available to accommodate office working.

She formally welcomed two new members to the Staff Consultation Forum.

The Committee was advised that a number of Property Services issues were brought up along with those on Office Accommodation.

A Member of the Committee enquired whether the target on the report on Senior Management changes had been met and was informed that this had not been met as yet.

5 August 2015
The Acting Corporate Legal Manager attended this SCF Meeting to present, and answer questions on, his report on Managing Organisation Conflicts in Council Roles and Duties. This presentation was part of the consultation process on this report, which would then go before the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee, followed by Cabinet, for adoption. Cllr Needham, Leader of the Council, remarked that this report had gone before Cabinet on 29 September 2015 (the evening before this JSCC Meeting).

Under Item 3 - Property Services Issues, Debbie Hiscock from Property Services attended and introduced the Property Services Apprentice, Katie Trigg. Debbie Hiscock stated that if issues reported to Property Issues had not been resolved after being registered, they would be brought before the SCF to be reported more formally. After some discussion, it was agreed that a representative from Property Services would attend a SCF Meeting every two months to update them on issues, so that SCF could give their teams some feedback and Property Services too could receive feedback.

Item 4 dealt with Matters Arising from Previous Minutes and the CHRM reported that she had met with staff from IT and they had agreed that employees working from home could claim for broadband payments, including line rental, up to the sum of £15 per month.

Under NHDC at Item 5, the Strategic Director of Customer Services (SDCS) informed the SCF that a planning application had been submitted for the changes to the external appearance of the District Council Offices. The canopy over the main entrance would be replaced and all windows replaced with green-tinted glass.

The Chief Executive confirmed that Council had recently approved the objectives for the next five years and these would be fed into the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Corporate Business Planning process.

In Item 7, an issue was raised around play rangers’ employment and the fact that some staff were taken on, but then offered a limited or variable number of days’ work. The CHRM advised that she would discuss this with the Service Manager and bring an update back to the SCF.

Also under this Item, a query was raised on the ongoing request for shower facilities in the new North Hertfordshire Museum and Community Facility. These would be needed for staff who walked, ran or cycled to work. However, it was pointed out that the building has Listed Building status and its size is constrained, so it has not been possible to secure Building Control approval for the installation of showers. Discussions had been held with Hitchin Swim Centre on this subject and they had agreed to NHDC staff using their shower facilities. Staff would be kept updated as this progressed.

Cllr Needham enquired whether disabled showers for staff would be available at the North Hertfordshire Museum site and was told that this was not possible for construction reasons.

Finally, those present were advised that a query had been raised on the pension scheme at a MSU meeting and they would like further briefings. However, the CHRM advised that two very good websites could provide details on the pension scheme and she gave the links as below:

London Pensions Authority:
Local Government Pension Scheme:

Draft 2 September 2015
Under Item 2, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager attended SCF once more, to present and answer questions on his report on the Community Right to Challenge, which was part of the Localism Act which had been in force for some time but had not as yet been used by any Local Authority. Cllr Needham commented that this too had gone through the meeting of Cabinet on 29 September 2015.

The SDCS advised that there were currently a number of consultations ongoing by the Government and he provided a brief update, including trade union reform, a proposed reduction to the tax relief for redundancy payments and a cap on exit payments.

Item 5 - Office Accommodation Update was presented by the Chief Executive and he reiterated the changes that were to be made to the exterior of the District Council Offices building.

Finally, under Item 6 - Recruitment Process, the CHRM updated the Forum on the new recruitment process which had provided changes to the old Vacancy Control process. A redesigned form had been implemented including website links, and this simplified process was thought to be an improvement.

It was agreed: That the information provided in the above sets of Minutes of the Staff Consultation Forum be noted.
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) presented the Committee with the first quarterly update on the progress made to the People Strategy 2015-2020 Report, which also incorporated the Council’s Workforce Development Plan.

She emphasised that the People Strategy Plan took a lot of time and hard work to write, with HR having to hold discussions with other services to pinpoint workforce needs over the next five years. The outlook was ongoing austerity in local government with pay restraint but economic recovery elsewhere.

The HR team had some pressures, caused by having to manage a long-term caseload and the fact that three of the HR team were on maternity leave with another due to follow them in December 2015. It was challenging to try and arrange cover for these members of staff.

The Apprentice Scheme was still running well, but no more apprentices would be taken on until the Spring of 2016.

She updated the Committee that the new salary sacrifice scheme for cars launched in December 2014 had not generated any orders until one in September 2015. It would be advertised again by means of Team Talk and the intranet. A salary sacrifice scheme for Smartphones was in the early stages of being considered.

The CHRM declared that the Child Care Voucher Scheme was still popular and progressing well, with an average of 21 employees having used the Scheme each month for the past four months. There had been some changes, and she explained them and also that the Scheme more than pays for itself.

The long-term absence caseload had been well managed and by mid-August there were no cases of long-term absence.

Following commencement of the Shared Parental Leave Policy on 1 April 2015, procedures and guidance on the complex statutory entitlement was available on the NHDC intranet for staff. However, to date there have been no requests for Shared Parental Leave.

Although the online recruitment project was progressing well, there was still a lot of work to do to modify the process for managers once applications have been submitted for shortlisting. The objective was for managers to have electronic access to applications for shortlisting purposes. The reporting facility required further development and the shortlisting process needed to be improved.

The Committee were informed that analysis has started on the raw data for the biennial Equal Pay Audit. Meetings are to be held with the union and a report must then be written.

The annual appraisal cycle completion level was 93%, a very good result. The appraisal form and processes are now under review as the current ones have been used for a long time.

NHDC staff are now being offered a seasonal influenza vaccination by means of a number of lunchtime clinics run by Superdrug, held at DCO. Those unable to attend the clinics are able to obtain a voucher instead, which can be redeemed at a local Superdrug pharmacy. The cost will be covered by the Council and there has been a take-up of 100 so far and this number is likely to increase. The vaccinations are mainly aimed at staff with long-term health conditions and those who care for young or elderly relatives, as the Council is attempting to ensure that a ‘flu epidemic does not compromise availability of sufficient staff to keep services running at a time of high demand.

The CHRM then ran through Appendices A and B, stressing the high appraisal completion percentage of 93% and the fact that in August, long-term absences had dropped to 0. The target was 3.5 days or less, but the average was well below this figure.

Appendix C was the NHDC People Strategy 2015-2020 document which incorporated the Council’s Workforce Development Plan and the CHRM went through this, with special emphasis being placed on paragraph 2.1.2. - Recruitment, Retention and Retirement. Mention was made of the measures taken to reduce costs, which has been an important target in recent years. However, 2015 has shown the first signs of a slow recovery generally, although it will not be felt in local government, where austerity looks set to continue for some years. National unemployment rates had decreased significantly by 102,000 to 1.86 million in the three months to the end of January 2015, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

The CHRM touched on the sections on Removal of the Default Retirement Age and an Ageing Workforce, Flexible Retirement, Pension Changes, Absence and the Apprentices and Intern Scheme, reminding the Committee that this last Scheme had so far helped a lot of young people. The Council had also retained young people who were likely to progress upwards in the future.

Finally, in the section on Key Influences and Challenges, the CHRM emphasised that:

• Despite a huge decline in funding between 2008 and 2014, another £2.4m still had to be generated in savings and efficiencies over the next five years;
• A restructure of senior management was planned for 2015/2016 and leadership and succession planning was required, due to retirements. Proposals would be announced in December 2015;
• Although there was currently a rising rate of employment in the economy as a whole with gradual economic upturn, the Council faced declining funding and austerity over the next five years, with the concern that staff may leave to obtain better-paid posts in the private sector;
• A new telephony system was planned but could result in huge charges.

It was agreed: That the progress against the HR People Strategy Work Plan for 2015/2020 and a number of HR projects and work streams be noted.

The People Strategy supports the achievement of the Authority’s key priorities.
The CHRM informed the Committee that a Union pay claim had been submitted in June 2015 which included a call for local authority pay to be brought up to the Living Wage (currently £7.85/hr for workers outside London and £9.15/hr for workers in London). The claim also included an increase of £1/hr for all other workers.

The Committee were reminded that in the recent Budget, the Government had announced that they would introduce a new compulsory living wage from April 2016, to be paid to workers aged 25 years and above. This new Living Wage would commence at £7.20/hr and it was hoped that it would reach more than £9/hr by the year 2020. It had taken 13 years to increase the Living Wage from £5 to £7.20, but it was intended to raise this to £9 in just five years, which would be difficult. Pay scales too, would increase by 2020. This would impact on contracts too, as contractors would have to increase their employees’ wages and therefore charges as well. A pay offer was likely to be made in 2016 and JSCC would be kept up to date with any proceedings.

She declared that she had attended one of the regional pay briefings on 14 September, at which national employers questioned local councils.

Committee discussion raised questions, such as:

• How many staff are paid below the Living Wage at NHDC? Just the apprentices and student play rangers;
• How will it impact on contractors with young lowly-paid staff? The Council cannot absorb increases, so contract prices will rise;
• There will be more challenges for pay incentives etc.
The Senior HR and Contracts Manager (SHRCM) presented this Information Note to the Committee to give the current trends, the latest equalities performance and the reasons for leaving, identifying retention issues that require addressing.

The SHRCM gave details of recent performance, quoting turnover statistics including the fact that from 1 January to 30 June 2015 30 staff had left NHDC. Figures given were taken from the 2013/2014 Local Government Workforce Survey.

Analysis of Leavers showed that the highest number of leavers had resigned and 75% of those had found positions elsewhere.

She went through Protected Characteristics and stressed that the male/female figures had redressed. Some percentages were from small numbers of leavers, so these turned out to be very small numbers (1 or 2).

The leavers taking redundancy were analysed into Grades - Grades 3 and 4 were now 20% (down from 29% last year) and 3% (down from 4% last year).

The SHRCM explained that Exit Questionnaires were issued to staff leaving NHDC in order to give the Council better information on the reasons for leaving, etc. Of the 30 staff who had left NHDC between 1 January and 30 June 2015, 28 had received exit questionnaires and only 11 had completed and returned them to HR. The responses had also been analysed and were listed in the Information Note.

Leavers were also offered an Exit Interview, to provide further information and express their views. Having this interview was encouraged where the reasons for leaving were problems with work colleagues, bullying and harassment. In the period stated, two leavers had taken the opportunity to have an exit interview.

The SHRCM touched on Equalities Performance and informed the Committee that this was outperforming in every measure. It was also noted that there was an error on the second line of the 4th bullet point - “in December 2015” should be “in December 2014”.

The Committee examined the Draft Exit Questionnaire provided and it was confirmed that this Questionnaire excluded redundancy as a reason for leaving the Council. Staff choosing redundancy were given a different Exit Questionnaire form.

Committee discussion raised questions such as:

• If leavers were going to another employer - what sector were they joining? It was considered that the answer to this question would provide useful data.
• Leavers should be asked to rate their satisfaction with their NHDC job - could the Council have done better?
• How does the leaver feel about NHDC?
• It was disappointing that only 11 out of 28 leavers had completed the Exit Questionnaire;
• Why offer an Exit Interview as well as the Exit Questionnaire? Leavers generally did not want to put their issues in writing, but wanted to express their views;
• Once the Exit Questionnaire was completed, if HR saw an issue, the leaver would be asked if they wanted an Exit Interview;
• People would naturally be attracted to jobs paying more - it could be a hard battle to retain staff;
• Some benefits were offered to supplement pay;
• Under Exit Interview, leavers should be asked “whether you would be prepared to have an Exit Interview”, not “whether you would like an Exit Interview”.
• Leavers with an issue who completed their Exit Questionnaire - would this influence their future employment? More information is required.
• On the front page of the Exit Questionnaire, the phrase “Your feedback is critical”, appears quite demanding. The Chairman suggested that the phrase “it would be helpful if you provided feedback” be substituted;
• Giving a percentage of low numbers, such as “5% of . . .” could be used to identify leavers. Minor changes could make a huge difference.
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) introduced the discussion paper and commented that Social Media was an extremely wide area. It relates to websites and online applications for recruitment and employment that allows users to share information, to interact, network and collaborate with followers. Some examples of applications used are LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn was used for professional reasons and NHDC advertised on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has a wider area of distribution and Tweeting was done on the NHDC Intranet. Savings were made in recruitment through using the internet (some applications were free). Social media was very useful and was good for an organisation’s reputation.

Generally, use of social media may “blur the lines” of working relationships (employers/employees etc). For managers, befriending on Facebook may prove difficult and lead to conflict in the workplace. NHDC’s IT Security Policy was in place covering social media, and it stressed the importance of individuals being very careful of the information they share on their media accounts.

Some organisations carry out online pre-employment screening on job applications, but NHDC does not advocate this.

The Committee discussed the paper, and one Member stated that she was impressed by the Customer Service Centre (CSC) correcting statements online. She thought it was useful and should continue. In her opinion, the next five years would make or break social media, some people’s use of social media can be awful. The issue of the Dark Web was brought up as a disadvantage to social media. Media attention pointed as much to its pitfalls as to its advantages and users should learn to be more circumspect with the information they circulated on their social media accounts.

The fact was raised that Facebook can be a giveaway when staff call in sick and their employers and colleagues check their accounts and find that this is untrue and they are actually elsewhere.

Overall, social media is useful at the moment from a recruitment perspective. It can be used to clarify the difference between the responsibilities of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) and North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC). An example of this was the recent fire at the Letchworth recycling site, when NHDC was inundated with calls but it was HCC’s site. The County Council should have quickly put out information on this issue.
After some discussion, the Committee decided that the topic on Employee Morale would be chosen for the next meeting of the JSCC on 16 December 2015.
Published on Friday, 23rd October, 2015
4.25 p.m