Joint Staff Consultative Committee Minutes

Wednesday, 28th September, 2016
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, Councillor Ian Albert (Substitute).
In attendance:
Senior HR Contracts Manager
HR Business Partner
Committee and Member Services Officer
Also Present:
Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (UNISON)
Christina Corr (SCF)
Claire Morgan (SCF)
Item Description/Decision
Cllr Fiona Hill had sent apologies for absence, as had Cllr Judi Billing (Cllr Ian Albert had agreed to substitute for her).

Kerry Shorrocks had also sent apologies for her absence, with Jo Keshishian attending in her place and Dee Levett had passed on her apologies - her substitute was Keith Fitzpatrick Matthews.

Cllr Needham stated that as she had a meeting later in the afternoon, she would have to leave the JSCC Meeting by 4.20pm at the latest.
It was agreed that the Minutes of the JSCC meeting held on 6 July 2016 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, and reminded them that an audio recording would be taken of this Meeting.

She then asked the Committee if the following statement could be taken as read and the Members 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 were 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 required they leave the room under Paragraph 7.4 of the Code of Conduct, could speak on the item, but must leave the room before the debate and vote.”
6 July 2016
Under Item 2 - NHDC Update, it was reported that due to inclement weather, both Letchworth Outdoor Pool and the Howard Park and Gardens paddling pool had been temporarily closed due to widespread localised flooding, resulting in contamination. This was responded to very quickly and resulted in their reopening.

For Item 3 - Office Accommodation Update, those present were advised of the deadline for the tender document for the office accommodation project and that Council was due to meet on 14 July to agree the final amount to be included in the Capital Programme to complete the project. The comment was made that staff morale was affected by the uncertainty of when the decant to Town Lodge would take place and that the final dates would depend on negotiations with the successful contractor. The move was likely to commence in November but as yet no date had been finalized. Staff were advised to commence their office clearout while awaiting the final date.

Item 4 - Staff Survey. The CHRM advised that the Staff Survey Full Report would be published on the intranet shortly and that overall satisfaction with NHDC as a place to work had increased by 8% to 86% this year, indicating the resilience and optimism of staff throughout the Council. However, dissatisfaction was expressed by some staff with opportunities for career progression, office accommodation and pay. More would be set out in the item on People Strategy.

Under Item 5 - Employee Queries, one query dealt with heat and ventilation issues for staff in Democratic Services working for elections. It had been proposed to Property Services that blinds in the offices could be closed in the morning and windows left open to help with the heat. This would benefit both teams - those manning the telephones and those working to deal with incoming ballot papers, postal votes etc.

With reference to the query about whether core hours could be relaxed for those doing election duties. Members stated that there was usually a long list of staff normally wishing to work for Elections each year, but unfortunately during the June Referendum many were on annual leave, which caused a great problem for Electoral Services. Although councils had a statutory duty to man elections, the extension given by the Prime Minister so close to the Referendum had caused problems.

The new telephone system was mentioned briefly and it was agreed that there had been a few “teething” problems so far.

3 August 2016
Item 2 - NHDC Update raised the subject of a joint waste and recycling service and contract with East Herts District Council. It was advised that as both Councils were experiencing increasing pressures on budgets it would be prudent to consider different ways of working and explore what improvements and efficiencies could be achieved, while protecting the environment.

Under Item 4 - Employee Queries, a query was raised about staff being charged 29p when logging onto the District Council Offices’ telephone system when working from home. It was agreed that if no response was received on this from Customer Services, the Strategic Director should be contacted.

Draft 7 September 2016
The SHRCM continued with Item 2 - Minutes from the Previous Meeting of the SCF. There was further discussion on the charge of 29p for connection to the Council’s telephone system for Homeworkers and the CHRM agreed to ask Customer Services about the position. The result was that the system now holds the login connection so staff do not have to reconnect each time, unless the connection is lost. A local call should not incur any charges. It may be possible to log in once a week. For more information or assistance, the telephone team can be contacted.

Under Item 3 - NHDC Update, the SCF was informed that as part of the 2016-18 pay deal, the NJC had agreed to conduct a review of the NJC pay spine that local employers can apply to local pay and grading structures. In a letter to Chief Executives on 22 August, the NJC had warned that a restructured pay spine would not be possible without some additional cost for Councils. However, both sides will endeavour to achieve an outcome that is financially viable for employers and fair to employees.

SCF were informed that the ARP Policy has been reviewed and now includes a means of fair assessment for payments made for other forms of additional responsibility such as working on special projects and not just not covering a higher grade for long-term sick colleagues. Feedback on this was expected shortly.

Lastly, the matter of staffing during Elections was discussed. Electoral Services ask for volunteers to man polling stations throughout North Hertfordshire for elections of all sorts and for referendums and many NHDC employees cover these positions, with the approval of their managers. However, their posts have to be covered during their absence during polling day and the departments have to manage on reduced staff during elections to ensure service delivery is not affected.

Cllr Albert raised the issue of staff access to the North Hertfordshire Museum from 9 August and the Unison representative declared that there was now no access to the lift shaft, the staircase and the rooms above. This meant that the Museum staff were currently camped out in the galleries to do their work, a situation they found very dispiriting.

Cllr Albert enquired whether SCF discuss exit schemes during their meetings and was informed that there is an exit including a questionnaire and interview, and staff had been consulted on this, but the Senior Managers’ Restructure was not discussed as it was in the Chief Executive’s remit.
The Senior HR Contracts Manager (SHRCM) presented the Committee with an update of the progress made in the last quarter with the People Strategy 2015-2020 Report, which covered the Council’s Workforce Development needs. She advised that the HR Work Plan for 2016/2017 had been completed (see Appendix B).

She touched on the forthcoming changes for running Apprenticeships, as there was a new Apprentice Levy and public sector targets to employ apprentices arriving in 2017. Details on the Levy had been published and developments were being closely followed to prepare for the changes. It was stated that the current scheme was running well and more apprentices were being recruited. Five more were due to start working at the Council shortly. The last intern was due to finish in October, but no more interns were planned. On being asked, the SHRCM revealed that approximately 50% of apprentices had been recruited into suitable vacancies at the Council following their apprenticeships.

As previously stated in the SCF reports, the bi-annual Staff Survey had been published with the reported rise in overall staff satisfaction There was room for improvement and a process for this was being planned. Internal communications were being revised and it had been proposed that Long Service Awards were modernized.

Feedback for the new shortlisting process had been well received by managers and the process was now in constant use.

The subject of the Wellbeing Workshops for staff was raised and they now carried the ‘Facing the Challenge’ label to link them to the Council’s development activities. A workshop was also to be developed focusing on Managing Change and Transition. This would be included in the Discussion Paper, later on the Agenda.

With reference to the Council’s car lease salary sacrifice scheme, it was mentioned that just three applications had been received since it was introduced in December 2014. A recently-announced Government consultation on salary sacrifice schemes proposed the removal of existing tax and NI advantages, meaning the benefits were limited and it was to become more expensive. Childcare provision and cycle to work schemes would be exempted from these proposals but car lease schemes would not and might result in a review of the Just Drive scheme.

NHDC had offered staff free flu vaccinations during the working day, administered by Superdrug, or vouchers for free vaccinations carried out at Superdrug. To date this year, 31 flu vaccinations had been dispensed and 32 more had been booked, in addition to 34 more vouchers being issued.

The Committee enquired whether any analysis had been carried out on the vaccination scheme and were informed that there had been no analysis but that absence due to illness had decreased significantly and short-term absence had also fallen.

On being asked whether the absence figures compared to other LGAs, the Committee were informed that they did, but that a comparison would be presented to the Committee at the next JSCC Meeting in December.

The Chairman stated that some of the projects on the HR Workplan were due to have been completed, but it was not clear whether this had occurred or not. The suggestion was made to add an extra “tick box” column to the document, to show when the project was completed. The Committee agreed to this.

It was agreed: That the progress made in the last quarter, July to September 2016 on a number of HR projects and work streams as part of the new People Strategy for the period 2015-2020, be noted.

The People Strategy supports the achievement of the Authority’s key objectives.
NJC Review of the National Pay Scales

The Senior HR Contracts Manager (SHRCM) presented the Information Note of the Corporate Human Resources Manager and informed the Committee that pay scales needed to be reviewed in order for them to become fit for purpose going forward. This would be revised internally.

Exit Payment Cap

She declared that HR was awaiting information regarding the dates when regulations would apply. The implication was that it would affect new strata of people. There was a need to change policies and procedures, but this could not be done until the method was clarified.

Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations

The consultation of proposed changes to the scheme had closed and the feedback was under consideration. More details were awaited.

Off Payroll Workers

The consultation on making the public sector responsible for assessing the tax liability of contractors would close on 5 October 2016. At the Budget 2016, the announcement was made that from April 2017 public sector bodies and agencies would be responsible for assessing the tax liability of contractors that applied to off-payroll working in the public sector. There was concern that it would limit flexibility in obtaining resources.

Apprentice Levy

More information would be available shortly.

Mandatory Gender Pay Gap Reporting

This would come into effect in 2017. Snapshots would commence on 6 April 2017.

Salary Sacrifice Benefit Schemes

As reported in an earlier item, the consultation launched on 10 August to consider limiting the benefits-in-kind attracting National Insurance contributions and Income Tax advantages when provided as part of salary sacrifices. Feeding in comments to change this may limit other such Schemes, making them and others, seem not as attractive.

Simplification of the tax and national insurance treatment of termination payments

The Government announced in the 2016 Budget that changes would be made to the taxation of termination payments from April 2018, following a consultation on tax and National Insurance contributions. The first £30,000 of a termination payment would remain exempt from income tax and the second consultation would set out the proposal that any payment made to an employee, relating only to the termination of the employment, would continue to have unlimited employee NICs exemption. The Government would tax and subject to Class 1 NICs, any payment an employee would have received if they had worked their notice period, even if they left immediately or part way through their notice period. All payments in lieu of notice (PILONs) would therefore become taxable and subject to Class 1 NICs. Payments above £30,000 will also become subject to employer NICs whereas at present they are currently only subject to income tax.
The HR Business Partner, Jo Keshishian introduced the Discussion Paper and ran through the salient points and activities linked to wellbeing organized during the last year.

She detailed the variety of activities on offer at the recent Wellbeing Day on 19 September, run in conjunction with the Active Communities Team at the Council Offices and informed the Committee that more discounts had been added to the Staff Discount List. Over 100 members of staff had taken advantage of the chance to see what was on offer from the range offered to employees. The Committee were informed that the Council’s Well@work intranet page had been updated, offering employees information and advice, on topics such as family, personal challenges and working health. There was also a free Employee Assistance Programme providing confidential advice, assistance and counselling referral to support staff in dealing with many issues, including health and wellbeing, family, relationships, money and work life. The workplace challenges promoted by the Active Communities Team had encouraged participation in physical activity and there were Wellbeing noticeboards to detail issues such as health walks, cessation of smoking and mental health matters. The snack boxes distributed throughout the offices had also been upgraded and provided staff with a healthy alternative to the 5th floor vending machines.

Also on offer to staff was a ‘Managing the Challenge of Change’ workshop to be held on 13 October, which was designed to develop the skills and approach of managers in supporting their staff through change, hopefully building resilience in their teams. All this would help to meet the requirements of the new Investors in People standard and the introduction of new organizational competencies for staff and managers, showing the value of resilience and wellbeing.

The Committee was appreciative of the efforts made towards wellbeing for staff, and a proposal was made that as well as physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing should be taken into account through financial education. It was suggested that more advice was needed on finance and the Committee agreed that this was a good idea, especially as money matters were a significant factor in causing stress.
After some debate, the discussion topic chosen for the next JSCC Meeting on 21 December 2016 was:

Work Experience
How work experience has been used at the Council, what are the benefits and what is their future?

It was proposed that Shared Parental Leave be updated in the future and also possibly other topics on the list.
Published on Tuesday, 18th October, 2016