East Sussex and Surrey recognised for Public Service HR through Orbis venture

Orbis, the joint venture between East Sussex County Council and neighbouring Surrey County Council, received the hotly contested 2016 Award for Excellence in Public Service HR at this week’s Personnel Today Awards. We look at its winning entry and those of the runners-up.


East Sussex and Surrey county councils – Orbis

About the organisation(s)
East Sussex and Surrey county councils launched Orbis in 2014, a unique partnership between business service functions. It covers approximately 1,400 people providing HR, finance, property, ICT, procurement and business operations for both organisations and many public- and third-sector customers.

The challenge

Public Service Award – the judges

Anne Gibson, PPMA
Sue Evans, Warwickshire County Council and PPMA president
Barry Pirie, Wiltshire Council

While financial austerity in local government grows, customers’ demands remain – this means that employers need to think differently about how to deliver on these demands despite cost pressures.

The vast majority of partnerships fail through a lack of attention to aligning people and culture and it was determined that it would not fall into this trap.

What the organisation did

  • Supported the Orbis leadership team to: devise a vision and brand and develop the Orbis Target Operating Model (TOM) framework to do this.
  • Explored the hopes and fears of what creating the partnership would mean – all 1,400 colleagues participated and the outcomes were fed into a communication and change plan.
  • Created opportunities for the senior leaders from across the partnership to meet and work collaboratively together through off-site seminars and multi-functional project teams with a focus on building trust.
  • Addressed difference in pay, reward (up to 30% pay difference across the two organisations), and sought to harmonise non-contractual policies practices and procedures.
  • Encouraged all employees to participate in the co-creation of the Orbis behaviours called “Being EPIC”, which have been developed to set out the expectations of how colleagues across Orbis will operate and lead.
  • Launched the “performance and development” approach, moving away from an “appraisal” as the key principles are to increase the focus on individual and team development.
  • Launched talent programme Ingenium to recognise, stretch and engage with the talent across Orbis and recognise the Orbis behaviours.
  • Established an informal community of colleagues from across the partnership, known as the EPIC Champions. Their key role is to provide additional energy, support, encouragement and role model the agreed behaviours.
  • Set up: workshops providing updates and opportunities for people to get involved with the change programme; regular face to face Q&A drop-in sessions with senior leaders; the EPIC You Tube channel; and monthly “Yam Jams” using Yammer.
  • Encouraged regular engagement and involvement with trade union partners both locally and regionally.

Benefits and achievements

  • Integrated the management of each service and reduced, where appropriate, the layers of managerial hierarchy – to date saving £750,000. A further £2 million in savings will be delivered by April 2018.
  • Made processes more efficient and effective through use of more standardised, streamlined processes. To date, £750,000 in savings has been achieved.
  • Where activity is common across the two organisations, there is potential benefit through economies of scales and scope to remove duplicated effort. To date, £500,000 has been released and £3 million will be delivered by 2018.
  • Non-financial benefits are expected to be generated including: changes in working style for our people; increased staff engagement and motivation; and improved operational resilience.
  • Sickness absence has reduced by 16% – staff satisfaction levels and engagement scores have increased despite the pace and scale of change and no salary increases for the past two years.
  • Successfully delivered a range of support through wellbeing programmes including mindful leadership that has now been adopted by the Local Government Agency as a model of best practice.

Judge’s comments
“Very good evidence throughout for creating significant cost savings through collaboration, innovation and transformation.”

PPMA president Sue Evans presents Orbis with the 2016 trophy for Excellence in Public Service HR


Crown Prosecution Service

About the organisation
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

The challenge
After unprecedented levels of change, organisational data showed absence levels were high, with the CPS second highest for medium-sized civil service departments at more than 9.0 days average working days lost. In response, HR developed and implemented a health and wellbeing strategy, working in partnership with employees and providing support in dealing with personal challenges.

What the organisation did

  • The strategy aimed to help employees to: manage their mental and physical health; be better informed to make healthy lifestyle choices; have constructive conversations with managers; and secure support and maximise their contribution.
  • Covered four themes: employee wellbeing; managing attendance; partnerships; and support to specialist staff groups.
  • Chaired a project team, which consisted of HR and business leads overseeing the delivery of each theme, and ensured the strategy was delivered professionally and that employees saw positive changes immediately.
  • Worked with a range of external partners and specialists including: the public health responsibility deal team; departmental trade unions; OH Assist (occupational health provider); and Workplace Wellness, a CPS employee assistance provider.
  • Targeted work on the top 30 cases was introduced with local business leaders. A dashboard of outcomes was circulated monthly and this (along with the strategic input outlined) made the change that was needed.
  • Introduced a new seven-point plan to secure speedy and effective workplace adjustments, and a new approach to managing adjustments called “the workplace adjustment passport”.
  • Revised its attendance management policy, which provided a new procedure for dealing with long-term absence and included improved guidelines on managing disability-related absence.
  • Introduced a universal approach to stress risk assessment, which was mandated for staff who were regularly dealing with sensitive and traumatic casework.

Benefits and achievements

  • A significant positive impact on the wellbeing of employees and resilience, with absence improving in every part of the business and significant cost savings being achieved.
  • Reduced average working days lost from nine days (as at the start of 2014) to 7.7 days (as at March 2016), which broadly equates to £1.5 million added value.
  • From employee feedback and outcomes from the Civil Service People Survey, employees feel better supported at work. The CSPS statement, “I believe that CPS is committed to supporting my Health and Wellbeing”, sees 70% of employees giving positive or neutral responses.
  • The strategy drove up CPS professionalism and delivered real benefits both for CPS and employees working within it.
  • CPS enabled all employees to maximise their contribution in an environment that ensures a healthy and productive workplace.

Judge’s comments
“A thorough approach to tackling workforce health and wellbeing.”

Dundee and Angus (D&A) College

About the organisation
D&A College was born out of the merger of Dundee College and Angus College in November 2013. It has around 1,000 staff helping deliver a range of vocational and leisure courses, and more than 13,000 students are enrolled on a raft of full-time, part-time, or flexible learning programmes.

The challenge
A large-scale severance programme resulted in the loss of significant knowledge and experience. A new course leader (CL) role was created, but it was clear from the outset that the leaders had a mixed skill-set, some were very experienced former curriculum managers or senior lecturers, and others were completely new to the role. As a large staff group, there were many different styles and approaches.

What the organisation did

  • Course leader (CL) role was created, blending elements of former roles and creating new responsibilities and focus.
  • Sixty-five CLs were appointed, bridging the gap between academic heads (with a management focus) and the significant body (400+) of lecturers.
  • Delivered the “Course leader development programme”. This was designed to ensure CLs settled into their roles and could perform to the best of their abilities, while also sharing best practice, inspiring new post holders, and creating a significant buzz around innovative and effective learning.
  • Developed “an audience with” sessions, to build upon training needs assessments undertaken and resolve some basic barriers arising through the implementation of entirely new systems.
  • Ongoing focus of the CL training was very much teambuilding/group forming and peer learning, while continuing to support the operational and development needs that emerge from periods of significant change such as merger. In addition to the sessions, individual support programmes were developed for a group of around 20 CLs.
  • Themed campus sessions and OD team mentoring input generated strong professional dialogue, peer discussion and support. Alongside this, a further group were supported through individual coaching/mentoring support as well as more informal professional dialogue with colleagues. This approach was highly successful in supporting less confident individuals and “creating a level playing field” upon which to build future developments.
  • With evidently strong groundwork created through the campus groups, the Leading Learning Forum (LLF) became the monthly Friday event for all CLs and their academic heads.
  • Created themed LLF events are around the College’s “quality priorities”, with each one bringing in national awareness on that theme, direction from senior curriculum staff on that national message, plus sharing of excellence from colleagues and other teams on how they are working on that theme.
  • Greater investment in learning technologies, enabling new ways of working.

Benefits and achievements

  • The college’s reviewing body, Education Scotland, highlighted many examples of good practice and was confident in the learning and development activities that were taking place.
  • The CL programme has widened staff horizons, promoted peer-to-peer learning, identified individual and group training needs, supported individual needs, and provided time for reflection.
  • Feedback from students is that they experienced the “business as usual” of excellent learning and teaching, with CLs well supported and able to lead learning without detriment to the student experience.
  • Staff turnover rates are low, while staff absence during a period of significant change reduced to only 2.6%; 65 staff have been engaged in a major change management and CPD programme that has involved more than 800 individual staff attendances.
  • Participants have highlighted that the programme was challenging (particularly during a period of substantial change), but also incredibly beneficial.
  • The college has retained its sector-leading position in respect of student success, around 16% above the Scottish average – this is particularly evident in respect of younger learners and those from the most deprived areas in Scotland.
  • Around 94% of students completing their qualifications go on into sustained employment or on to higher-level study.

Judge’s comments
“An ambitious, imaginative and comprehensive approach to a significant business challenge, with a strong focus on business outcomes and clearly evidenced impact.”

London Councils

About the organisation(s)
Thirty-one London boroughs have signed a “memorandum of cooperation” to start tackling longstanding issues relating to the recruitment and retention of children’s social work professionals. The memorandum signals their commitment to work together on issues such as pay, training and development, supporting new professionals to develop their careers, and to work with agencies to improve quality and reduce cost.

The challenge
Most boroughs experience difficulties in recruiting and retaining permanent staff to children’s social work roles and this results in high numbers of agency staff being retained. Practices that have been adopted over many years have resulted in competition between boroughs for an insufficient pool of experienced workers, spiralling pay and the cost for permanent and agency staff alike, and insufficient focus on the supply and quality of social work professionals.

What the organisation did

  • An action plan with identified specific tasks was agreed, including: establishing common agency pay rates; working on workforce data; understanding referencing protocols; and communicating with the workers themselves.
  • Discussions on the memorandum have been had with provider agencies and where applicable managed service providers, setting benchmark agency rates with them and agreeing a common referencing format.
  • Adopted a common reference template, ensuring performance feedback at the end of each assignment as well as a speedier appointments process.
  • Worked collaboratively with agency suppliers to develop mechanisms to ensure that rates and charges for supplying agency staff appropriately reflect the skills and experience of workers and the remuneration of permanent staff.
  • Ensured that references provided for agency staff are objective, complete and accurate and provide all the information set out on the template agreed by the boroughs to ensure that workers of low quality or in need of development are identified.
  • Developed a policy between the boroughs to refrain from retaining as agency workers staff who are leaving permanent employment with the boroughs for a designated period.
  • Investigated options for establishing a bank of suitably skilled and experienced social work professionals.
  • Agreed to work together with other boroughs to promote positive images of children’s social work and to promote careers in social care through press, social and other media and advertising.
  • Committed to reviewing the effectiveness of this memorandum every 12 months.

Benefits and achievements

  • Capped agency rates now exist across all social worker job types in London, allowing each employer discretion on pay, yet management of spiralling payroll costs.
  • The memo has also ensured that employers in London collaborate towards enforcing the recently established employer’s standards by the Government’s social work taskforce in areas such as: social worker accountability; workforce planning; safe workloads; effective supervision and management; and continuing professional development.
  • Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham and the Workforce Lead for the Councils, said: “Boroughs have recognised that a more collaborative approach is the best way forward, to improve the number and quality of social work professionals, whilst avoiding competition between boroughs which drives instability in service delivery, and additional cost.”

Judge’s comments
“Good evidence of collaborative working across 31 London boroughs – the case sets out a framework for permanently employing social work and reducing dependence on agency workers therefore providing savings.”

Thurrock Council

About the organisation
Thurrock Council is the local council for the borough of Thurrock in Essex, England. Since 1997, Thurrock is a unitary authority, combining the functions of a non-metropolitan county with that of a non-metropolitan district. Thurrock is divided into 20 wards and elects 49 councillors.

The challenge
Early in 2015, Thurrock and Serco agreed that its long-term strategic partnership arrangement was no longer fit for purpose in meeting the needs of the council. Since its creation in 2004, the public-sector environment has moved into one of austerity and shrinking budgets, placing additional pressures and scrutiny on every contract that the council has in place. In the challenge to make substantial savings, the employees made their voice heard and clearly challenged the council to bring services back in-house.

What the organisation did

  • In order to ensure a smooth transition of more than 400 people, “Operation Welcome” began to integrate employees smoothly into the organisation.
  • Created communications, project summaries, newsletters and a way of describing the transition that summarised a one-team for Thurrock.
  • Established a wider transition, led by a small core team (programme management, HR, commercial services, IT, finance, legal and a dedicated team of transition leads from across the organisation).
  • Engaged three key trade unions in regular consultations and discussions to ensure their concerns were understood and addressed.
  • Teams across the council were integrated, joined up and working as one team.
  • External support was identified to ensure all aspects of Operation Welcome could be delivered – from the formal TUPE requirements through to resilience support and managing managers’ expectations.
  • Commissioned a team of trainers who could support the bespoke “Staff matters” programme, which provided innovative support and development for people going through transition; tailored development for Serco managers and help to “catch them up” with what it means to be a manager in a small unitary council.
  • Scoped a “one team” approach, which was especially helpful with transferring employees who would be joining already established teams – the key to success was to ensure there was no ‘us and them’ mentality.

Benefits and achievements

  • Activities were synchronised to ensure employees heard the facts at the same time, minimising rumours. They have reported a positive, engaged atmosphere where healthy dialogue is encouraged and issues are discussed openly.
  • Around 140 programmes ran from September onwards. Feedback has shown that more than 90% of participants strongly agreed that “it was relevant to me and my role”; 95% of participants agreed that “I feel supported through this transition” and “I know how to access the support available to me”.
  • Responding to trade union feedback, Thurrock ensured that programmes were available to agency workers supporting its services – this was seen as extremely positive.
  • More than 700 staff experienced the benefits of the “Staff matters” programme, which has now become embedded in the core development offer for all employees.
  • Kept spend as low as possible with the whole programme costing less than £10,000 – balancing commissioning external providers with the use of in-house expertise.
  • Requests for individual coaching and mentoring support increased – there was a 5% rise in requests for support with common themes from managers including “how to build a cohesive effective team over times of change”.

Judge’s comments
“A thorough approach to dealing with a challenging business issue. Good evidence of staff feeling well supported.”

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