Andrew Marston could never complain there wasn’t enough variety in his job. As force personnel director at Greater Manchester Police (GMP), he looks after a workforce that spans accountants and analysts to dog handlers and doctors – not to mention 8,000 police officers, 400 special constables, and an HR team of 140.
“There’s a huge sweep of stuff that makes life endlessly fascinating,” says the 50-year-old, who arrived at GMP from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council in 1995. “You’ve got the diversity but have a much more focused purpose. Local government can be fragmented – it’s education, it’s social services, it’s dustbins – and it can be hard to get a fix on what your priorities are and where you are going as an organisation.
“Here, what we’re about is fighting crime and protecting people, and everything we do fits into that context,” he says.
During his 10 years in the job, Marston has demonstrated the vital part that HR plays in this context. Key initiatives he has introduced have included the development and implementation of a performance appraisal process – linked to policing and business plans – a best-value review of all training and development activity, and an ongoing leadership programme, designed to empower senior staff at a more local level.
“We’re trying to get away from the centralised approach,” says Marston. The leadership programme is one of a number of initiatives he and chief constable, Michael Todd, are working on to change the culture of the organisation.
Marston says: “For me, the priority has been supporting the chief constable in the shift to become a more devolved organisation, with a decentralised decision-making process, and ensuring staff are equipped for that, and that HR processes support it.”
The past two years has also seen GMP’s biggest-ever recruitment drive, Project 8000. By recruiting 1,000 people, the force passed the 8,000 police-officer mark for the first time. Normally, GMP would only recruit 300-400 in a year.
“We had little forewarning of it and, politically, it was very important – we couldn’t fail,” says Marston. “It was all credit to my team, who worked their socks off and got up and running straight away with some innovative strategies.”
Strategies included a rejoiners’ campaign, in which GMP sent postcards to officers who had left in the past 10 years and a two-day recruitment open event. It was inundated: 30,000 application packs were sent out and 10,000 applications were processed. It also enabled GMP to build a talent pool of 600 applicants.
“It was a massive leap forward and a real deliverable for the organisation,” says Marston. “It has made a real difference in terms of performance.”
Although Marston and his team achieved its target, it met with an unexpected challenge during the recruitment drive. In October 2003, the BBC screened the documentary Secret Policeman, in which an undercover journalist exposed some police probationers – including GMP staff – as being racist.
After the programme, Marston not only had to deal with the disciplinary matters (which saw six probationers resign), but had to do a recovery job on GMP’s reputation. The day after the programme, the force sent out letters to everyone who was a candidate or an applicant in its system for Project 8000. “We said that the programme was not representative of us, and our standards, and that we would not tolerate that behaviour,” says Marston. “Internally, we sent the same message.”
Marston admits the recovery job is ongoing. The force has revamped its recruitment system so it is based on a national model, which tests for a respect for diversity at every level. The previous system was rigorous in this area but “no system is foolproof”, says Marston.
GMP has also established the Respect Programme, which ensures it respects and responds to both the communities of Greater Manchester and the workforce.
Diversity is a subject never far from today’s HR directors’ minds and Marston is no different. But he is also concerned that too much negative press coverage on the Metropolitan Police gives the wrong impression of other police forces.
“The problems the Met experiences aren’t necessarily what we experience,” he says. “In London, you’re talking about a 20% to 25% minority community in terms of what they’re trying to reflect. For us, it is more like 9%.
“The nature of the communities and the area we are policing is different,” and he adds: “There’s more to the police service than the Met.”
No one could say Marston has the easiest job in HR. At times, initiatives have not had time to bed in before they are changed. But by far the worst moment of his time at GMP came when a police officer was murdered during anti-terrorist work.
“It was an awful time and affected people very badly,” Marston recalls. “For any organisation it’s bad enough when you lose a member of staff, but when they lose their life in the course of doing their job, it’s very hard.”
Although he has spent a lifetime in the public sector, Marston says he has always had a hankering to work for himself. So, in the long term, consulting might be an option. But, for the moment, there is still plenty of challenge at GMP HQ, and it is a job he greatly enjoys. He also has lots of challenges out of work, with plans for a fundraising trip to New Zealand.
Marston is looking forward to keeping HR centre stage with initiatives, such as the leadership programme and the government’s modernisation agenda. But despite believing that HR is in a much better place now than when he first started out in the profession, don’t expect him to preach about HR as a strategic force. He believes it is, but Marston dislikes the “sniffiness” of some HR professionals when it comes to the core administrative and day-to-day aspects of the job.
“The thing I’ve learned is that it is no good just being good at the strategic stuff,” he says. “If you can’t get the personnel systems right or the pay and conditions right, then no-one will be interested in what you have to say about the strategic direction of the organisation.
“If people are your greatest asset, you have to be able to get the hygiene factors right before you get on to the clever stuff – otherwise, you’re missing the point,” Marston says.
Andrew Marston’s CV
1995-present Greater Manchester Police, force personnel director
1990-1995 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, chief personnel adviser
1988-1990 West Lancashire District Council, assistant chief executive
1982-1988 West Lancashire District Council, personnel manager
1975-1982 West Lancashire District Council, assistant personnel manager
1972-1975 Norweb Electricity, management trainee.