Defra set for policy change in wake of foot and mouth

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is
introducing wide-ranging changes to HR policies to make better use of staff
talents and take on board lessons learned during the foot and mouth crisis.

Richard Allen, corporate services director in charge of HR at the
department, said he hopes to encourage more flexibility in the use of staff
throughout the department to make the most of individual skills, an approach
that proved effective in the battle against the epidemic.

At the forefront of the changes is new training for managers, the planned
introduction of e-HR, as well as the use of on-the-spot bonuses to encourage
staff performance (as reported in Personnel Today last week).

Allen joined Defra in September, midway through the foot and mouth outbreak
and only two months after the department was formed when the Ministry of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food combined with sections of the Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions.

He said that because Defra incorporated two departments with completely
different personnel systems, he had shied away from simply merging them, as he
wanted to establish a more modern HR approach, in line with Customs and Excise
– a department he had worked with previously. Allen is still developing the
department’s formal HR strategy because environment secretary Margaret Beckett
is in the process of drawing up her overall aims for Defra.

Allen, who hopes the HR strategy can be presented to the board by the summer,
explained: "Though I have views on the sort of thing [the HR strategy]
should look like, I need to be clear that it is going to deliver what the
business really wants."

He is planning to make the organisation less hierarchical to build on
progress made during the foot and mouth crisis when staff were given increased
flexibility in their job roles and skills were transferred more easily though
the department.

The HR department is encouraging managers to make the best use of their
people’s skills, to be flexible and to give staff more responsibility where

As part of this process Defra managers are being put through leadership
programmes, which aim to improve their people management by giving them the
confidence to act on their own initiative to match jobs with the staff best
equipped to do them.

Senior managers will also be given greater powers to reward staff for
outstanding performance through the introduction of on-the-spot bonuses of up
to £300, which will run in parallel with the annual bonus scheme.

Directors and heads of department will have about 0.02 per cent of the total
salary budget to give away for the bonuses, which Allen thinks will help
improve morale and motivation. He stressed the awards will be monitored
carefully and reviewed in conjunction with the unions.

Allen is also keen to introduce e-HR because it will allow managers to
assign employees more efficiently to areas where they are most needed.

"What I would like is something where people are encouraged to enter
what skills they have and what areas they would like to work in, so they are
much more part of an open market," he said.

Allen said Defra is working with consultants to develop a suitable e-HR
system, which can also be used to provide online training and development.

By Quentin Reade

Comments are closed.