STAFF CONSULTATION FORUM
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) referred the JSCC to the Minutes of the meetings of the Staff Consultation Forum (SCF) held on 6 January, 3 February and the Draft Minutes of 2 March 2016, for details of the meetings, matters discussed and actions taken.
The CHRM provided a summary of the main updates from each meeting as follows:
6 January 2016
Under Item 2 - Funding for Eye Tests, the Health and Safety Officer (HSO) advised that the Health and Safety Committee had agreed that the proposal should be considered by SCF. The proposal was for staff to claim up to £60 towards a new pair of glasses for VDU use and for the cost of eye tests to be covered. To date in 2015/2016, NHDC has paid £1,358 towards the cost of prescription glasses, equating to 26 claims averaging around £52 per person. The proposal was made to use a single provider (Specsavers) and if VDU glasses are necessary, a voucher for £45 would be issued towards a new pair of glasses. For higher priced frames, the £45 would be deducted from the price as NHDCs contribution but Specsavers would increase the voucher value to £65 at their own cost. If officers who had their eyes tested did not require glasses, the cost of the eye test would equate to a loss to the Council. Regarding the DSE assessments, at present only the HSO was qualified to undertake these, but Property Services were considering an IT package so that officers could undertake their own assessment.
Item 3 - Matters Arising from Previous Minutes/Property Services Matters brought up the subject of the price of sanitary products at the Council. The Strategic Director of Customer Services had written to Property Services on behalf of SCF following a query on the subject of the high price of sanitary products located in the vending machines in the female toilets. The Technical Support Officer (TSO) advised that Property Services was looking into this and would update SCF members via email once she had met with suppliers.
An officer had asked that the lighting at the rear entrance be investigated, as when it was time to leave the office in the dark evenings it appeared very dim. The TSO stated that this would be looked into and the SCF presented with an update. Members agreed that this was a problem, particularly on winter evenings, when the lights were on in the multi-storey car park, and there was no light in the Members car park. The lights on the steps outside the rear entrance did not work, which caused a further hazard. CHRM stated that she would pass details of this issue to Property Services.
In NHDC Update the CHRM updated the Committee that the Chief Executive had advised the SCF meeting that:
there would be an extension to the North Herts Leisure Centre car park. The Cabinet had agreed and approved the necessary additional budget for this project;
NHDC was one of the 16 worst-hit Councils nationally by the Revenue Support Grant. This Grant had not been expected to be discontinued for several years, but it was revealed that it will cease after the 2016/2017 settlement.
Lastly, under Office Accommodation, notice of a Staff Briefing on this project had been circulated. All staff were encouraged to attend this briefing on Thursday 14 January 2016.
Under Item 1 - Building Control Project, the Head of Building Control introduced himself and advised that SCF was being used to consult on a number of issues affecting the ability to recruit and retain members of staff in the department. The Council had a statutory duty to have a Building Control Department.
Item 5 concerned the New Appraisal Process (Regular Performance Review) and the HR Business Partner present, presented a paper on behalf of the Learning and Employee Engagement Manager, outlining proposed changes to the way that appraisals are carried out within the organization following feedback received from the current method of appraisals. This process was based on the same document used throughout the year from: appraisals; mid-year appraisals and one-to-ones. It emphasized that both managers and employees were to look at the competencies before meetings, to decide which areas were to be looked at - all competencies no longer had to be considered at every review as before. Training sessions were to be held in March for managers and refresher courses would be carried out every year in March for new managers and anybody who wished to attend. The SCF was advised that this paper had already been presented to Corporate Board and SMT. SCF were supportive of the new process, which appeared more user-friendly and adaptable to individual needs of employees. Those present were requested to email Hrhelp with any queries or concerns they may have, so they can be dealt with as soon as possible by a member of the team. The new process would be used from April 2016 onwards.
Under Item 8 - Employee Queries, several questions were raised, including the following:
What was the process for homeworkers when there were problems with the IT system? Should they come into the office or wait at home for the problem to be resolved? The SDCS advised that this depends on individual circumstances, the distance between the office and the member of staffs home and how long the problem is expected to continue. IT has a very useful text alert system to keep everyone up to date with work that is progressing to resolve IT problems.
A formal consultation on a restructure would be commencing shortly for the Housing Team. They had not as yet been informed of the full extent of the restructure and SCF would inform SCF of the details as soon as possible. The consultation would last from 9 February to 9 March 2016 and a representative from the Housing Team would be asked to attend the March SCF meeting to update members.
Draft Minutes of 2 March 2016
Under Item 1 - Whistleblowing Policy, the Senior Lawyer presented her report following the introduction of a new Code of Practice. The report had been considered by the Senior Management Team (SMT) when it met in February 2016. She asked SCF to note that the Policy set out the arrangements ensuring that workers could raise concerns or make protected disclosures in the public interest and how these would be handled. The Policy was intended to encourage such disclosures to raise concerns. SCF was requested to ensure that any comments should be with her by Monday 7 March 2016 to enable her to prepare the necessary final reports.
The Anti-Bribery Policy at Item 2 was also presented by the Senior Lawyer and this, too, had been considered by SMT in February 2016. It had been amended to include in the description, indicators and guidance on bribery. The Policy applies to all employees, Members and agency workers. It was being considered whether training should be offered to managers or employees and whether the reporting and monitoring arrangements currently in place need improvement.
Item 3 - Housing Services Restructure was presented as a verbal update by the Strategic Housing Manager (SHM).
The CHRM stressed that the SHM had outlined the proposals which included deleting one post, reduction of the Housing Policy Officers hours by 50% and creating a further Support Officer post and another manager position. Career grading was proposed for front line staff and it was suggested that the emergency housing out of hours service be transferred to Careline. This would generate a saving of £5,000.
This led to Item 4 on Careline Restructure. The Management Support Unit Manager updated SCF on this Restructure and advised that posts had been evaluated and work to fill them was in process. She also stated that some of the administrative support work for the service would transfer to the MSU and an additional post created to meet the demand in this area. The Leader of the Council remarked that if there was spare capacity in Careline, why was an additional post not given to Careline? The CHRM suggested that the Head of Housing and Public Protection Service should respond to that question. Cllr Lovewell voiced his assumption that there must be so much administration work at Careline that it had to be given to MSU to carry out.
A further restructure was set out at Item 5 - Development Control Restructure. This was addressed by the Head of Building Control, who explained that he was looking to recruit to fill the post of the Planning Control and Conservation Manager, who had recently retired. It was also intended to delete the Principal Planning Officer post and to create a post for a Strategic Sites Planning Officer, with the post holder of the deleted post in line for the new role. The increased hours worked by the Technical Support Team were to be made permanent to maintain the level of service currently provided and a new career graded technical support post was to be created, to be ring-fenced to two existing members of staff.
Under Item 8 - NHDC Update, the Chief Executive advised SCF that staff briefings had been well attended and that the 2016/2017 budget had been agreed. The CHRM then advised that the results of the Equal Pay Audit would be published shortly on the Intranet. A paper on this would be presented at the next JSCC Meeting on 30 March 2016. She confirmed that the results were encouraging and gave brief details.
Office Accommodation Update at Item 9 - the CHRM informed the SCF that the office decant to Town Lodge and elsewhere had been moved back to September 2016 in order to allow officers time to send out tenders and allow sufficient time to evaluate and undertake a value engineering exercise if required. A link was given to the office accommodation pages on the Intranet.
Finally, under Item 10 - Employee Queries, Bullying/Harassment, the issue of a complaint against a NHDC Councillor was mentioned. He had been accused of bullying and harassing officers and this had been upheld. However, he still had the opportunity to appeal. SCF were advised by the Chief Executive that if an officer had any concerns about conduct, these should be raised with their Head of Service, their Strategic Director or with the Chief Executive himself. If the complaint related to a Member of the Council, the matter should be raised with the Monitoring Officer.
PEOPLE STRATEGY UPDATE
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) presented the Committee with an update of the progress made in the last quarter with the People Strategy 2015-2020 Report, which covered the Councils Workforce Development needs. She advised that the HR Work Plan had been completed.
The CHRM put emphasis on such issues as the structure pressures with which HR have to contend, such as cover for maternity leave, although one officer was due back at work in April. Other sources of pressure were recruitment and HR casework loads, together with Freedom of Information requests and transparency data requirements. However, progress had been made, as listed under para 8.2 of the report. Special emphasis was put on:
Major changes for how apprenticeships would be run in the future, with a new apprenticeship training levy and public sector targets to employ apprentices in 2017, which will require changes to the scheme;
Further changes imminent to pay and pensions for local authority staff;
HR are working with IT on Phase 2 of the online recruitment project to modify the process for managers once applications have been submitted for shortlisting. This Is becoming more IT-orientated and feedback from a small number of jobs being trialled, will be reviewed before rolling it out to all new vacancies;
The Equal Pay Audit had been completed in the last quarter and a summary of the findings could be found in the Equalities Update item on the JSCC Agenda;
The Equalities Data for 2015 which was required to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010, was sent for publication before the deadline of 31 January 2016. A summary of this could be found in the Equalities Data Update item on the JSCC Agenda;
The new appraisal process replacement has been approved at Senior Management Team (SMT) and Corporate Board level, and is called the Regular Performance Review (RPR). Staff have been briefed and updated information is available on the Intranet;
On National Stress Awareness Day on 8 November the Council held a drop-in event and this was followed by two Well Being Workshops in November. The aim was to support staff in maintaining well being generally, particularly through organisational change. Further workshops are likely in the future.
The bi-annual Staff Survey was open until 1 April 2016. Results would then be collated and a final report published at the end of May.
The CHRM went through Appendix A, which contained Key Performance Measures. Under the Absence Rates 2015/2016 rolling year, she commented that the over the last 12 months, the average absence rate was 4.22 and the Year End data would soon be available. The figures were likely to decrease. Full year figures would be presented at the next JSCC Meeting on 29 June 2016. A Member advised that at a recent NHS meeting she had attended, those present had been informed that the viruses and other illnesses which had normally struck in December each year now appeared to have moved to January/February and in recent years the figures for the winter months of January/February were consistently higher.
It was agreed: That the progress made in the last quarter, December 2015 to March 2016 on a number of HR projects and work streams as part of the new People Strategy for the period 2015-2020, be noted.
REASON FOR RECOMMENDATION:
The People Strategy supports the achievement of the Authoritys key objectives.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PAY AND PENSIONS
National Pay Bargaining 2016/2017
The Corporate Human Resources Manager (CHRM) informed the Committee that the Unions had rejected the employers pay offer of a 1% pay increase over the next two years. To ensure that pay scales comply with the National Living Wage that comes into effect on 1 April 2016, the lowest spinal point at grade 1 would be raised to the National Living Wage hourly rate. A Member enquired how the differential was dealt with and was informed that the lowest points of the Local Government pay scales had risen gradually over a number of years. The increases for the National Living Wage would require the lowest rates of pay to rise by the same amount over the next 4 years that it had risen over the previous 14 years. Although those employees under the age of 25 years were not entitled to the higher rates, the National Living Wage rate for those 25 and over would be applied to all those in local government service regardless of age. The organisations that provide contracted-out services on behalf of the Council would also be required to pay their staff the National Living Wage rates.
The CHRM reminded the Committee that the new single-tier state pension would come into effect from 5 April 2016. There would be an impact on pay for both NHDC and employees. Employers Class 1 National Insurance Contribution (NIC) would increase by 3.4% and employees NIC would increase by 1.4%, impacting on take-home pay.
The Committee was informed that the Government had opened a consultation, proposing to reduce the cost of employer-funded pension reductions and rules may change to allow staff early access to pensions.
Exit Payment Cap
The Enterprise Bill, proposing a cap of £95,000 for exit payments was still on its passage through the House of Commons and this cap would include payments related to voluntary and compulsory redundancies or other voluntary exits. A consultation was being carried out on further reforms and a list would be considered.
The Leader gave her opinion that this was hasty legislation and a complete muddle. She considered that at the age of 55+ and facing redundancy, it would become harder.
The Senior Human Resources and Contracts Manager (SHRCM) introduced an update to cover the latest position on staff equalities data. She went through the Overview of Equalities data for 2015 set out on p37 and was asked about the numbers for whom no return had been received. She explained that this was a mixture of those where no information had been received and those who had opted not to respond and the number of those had increased since the last Report. Staff were being encouraged to complete this sensitive data themselves using the SAP ESS system. However, if they wished not to disclose this, that wish would be respected.
The Leader of the Council stated that employees must understand that providing information was entirely their choice, logging on through SAP/Payroll.
Discussing the Equalities categories, the CHRM advised that disability could be acquired or temporary and Cllr Needham suggested that some staff may not even consider themselves to be disabled, so the figures given may not reflect the true position. The SHRCM stated that it could be useful to know.
It is positive to note that almost half of the people recruited in the past year were under 30 years of age, but the highest percentage of the Councils workforce remain in the 45-54 age bracket. Following the recent review of the exit questionnaire and interview process, she promised to bring information on how this was working to the next meeting of the JSCC in June 2016.
A Member noted the numbers on Maternity Leave and asked if those on Paternity and Shared Parental Leave were also included in the figures? She was informed that at the present time it was only women on maternity leave who were covered by the legislation. However, the first member of staff had now applied for Shared Parental Leave and his application was being processed. The SHRCM commented that research had shown some women appear to block men taking this leave. There was also a proposal that grandparents could share in this Leave. A review of Shared Parental Leave would be taken in the future to assess how popular it was. It would also be interesting to see how case law in this area developed.
STRATEGIC DISCUSSION PAPER ON EMPLOYEE MORALE
The CHRM introduced this subject by asking what the impact of such pressures as austerity and budgets, public sector job losses and pay restraint for several years, would be on employee morale. She stated that employee morale could be broadly measured using the bi-annual Staff Surveys; austerity in relation to job security with widespread public sector redundancies; austerity in relation to budget pressures with pay freezes, low increments and pension changes; and other measures of staff morale and well being, such as turnover and absence rates
The discussion paper went into key highlights from the last couple of staff satisfaction surveys:
Financial pressures that have been well-communicated to staff;
The effects of Local Government pay being frozen or subject to very low increases over a long period of time;
Changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme in 2008 and 2014.
The Discussion Paper also covered matters related to job security, turnover of staff, absence levels and staff well being.
The key indicator was how satisfied staff were with their job., their workplace and surroundings, their relationship with their colleagues, the work they did, their manager, their general well-being, their remuneration and any benefits available, job security, how the Councils budgets and policies affected them, etc. The Staff Survey deadline was 1 April 2016. In the last Staff Survey in 2014 Overall Job Satisfaction achieved 80%, a very good result. In addition, the number of staff responding was up 4% from the previous survey in 2012.
Committee discussion raised the comment that it was possible to be unhappy with your work ad happy with colleagues - or vice versa. Responding to a query, she offered to circulate a link to the Staff Survey to Members so that they could see the survey issued to staff. The CHRM advised that the survey showed staff satisfaction was high with their colleagues. Issues raised were with pay and job security, so staff were regularly updated with developments.
She was asked whether issues have an impact on morale - and responded that it did, especially from pay and conditions. Turnover rates were 18% and 19%. If the economy picked up this could have an effect. Motivation at work could change and suit one person more than another. All sorts of issues, pros and cons, could make a difference. Even the Public Sector redundancies seen or read in the Press could have an effect. The Council was constantly reorganizing things. It was possible for the decline in staff head count to affect morale and an employees work. People are working harder and longer, responding to the current national economic climate.
Councillor Hill enquired what the response rate was, and was told it was 60% to 70%. The CHRM pointed out that employee absence rose if staff were unhappy - there could be extremes of highs and lows and the causes could vary. It was suggested that HR could take a holistic look at the teams affected and this could lead to departmental restructure. Team building could also be a solution to improve any issues at departmental level. She continued that the staff survey was an indicator of particular issues. It did not appear that alarm bells were ringing at present and the benefits offered to staff, such as Wider Wallet, childcare vouchers, eye tests, staff retail discounts and well-being events could all make Council staff happier to work at North Hertfordshire District Council.