PT Awards 2013 winners: Essex Excellence in Public Service HR

Essex County Council collects their award
Essex County Council collect their award in 2013

The Public Sector People Managers' Association

Essex County Council was victorious in the Personnel Today Awards this week as it won the award for Excellence in Public Service HR, sponsored by the Public Sector People Managers’ Association. Its Your Voice initiative beat off competition, unusually, from another entry from the local authority, as well as other runners-up, all of whom are profile here.


Essex County Council – Your Voice Initiative

About the organisation

Judges
Richard Crouch
, president of the PPMA
Martin Rayson, divisional director – human resources and organisational development at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Anne Gibson, acting managing director, Norfolk County Council

Essex County Council is one of the largest local authorities in the UK, looking after around 1.4 million residents. It is a non-metropolitan county council, so responsibilities are shared between districts and in many areas also between civil parish councils.

The challenge

Despite a difficult public-sector climate of cost cutting and pay freezes, Essex County Council wanted to improve its employee engagement to upper quartile levels and position itself as an employer of choice, recognised nationally. It established a mantra of “talk, listen, connect and engage” and introduced a series of activities under its “Your Voice” initiative.

What the organisation did

  • Designed and delivered “Your Voice” engagement day: 48 separate but simultaneous conversations hosted by senior leaders, all done on zero budget.
  • Created the Our Voice forum, a group of engagement ambassadors from all service areas, sponsored by the council’s deputy chief executive.
  • Created informal “Essex Engagers” network, which now includes 500 employees.
  • Ran focus groups to encourage staff to produce action plans at a local level.
  • Moved delivery of annual staff awards to engagement team, resulting in 25% increase in nominations.
  • Developed a council employee panel, which helps to shape policies and projects.
  • Introduced sessions for managers to help them understand their role in engagement.

Benefits and achievements

  • Higher response rate to engagement survey: 77% in 2012, compared with 66% in 2011 and 62% in 2010.
  • Employee engagement index up by 3% overall, with many teams exceeding 80%.
  • Launched the council’s new values, which are based on active consultation with more than 800 staff.
  • Eighty-two per cent of staff feel the council communicates effectively with them.
  • Seventy per cent of employees felt that the organisation would take action after their feedback at Your Voice engagement day sessions.

Judge’s comments

“The only entry to make a community link in the challenge.” – Richard Crouch

Wiltshire Council

About the organisation

Wiltshire Council is the unitary authority for most of the county of Wiltshire in the West of England. Employees cover a range of functions, including adult care and housing, services for children and families, and commissioning communications.

The challenge

In 2009, Wiltshire Council was formed by bringing together five councils – along with five models of HR service delivery. With a backdrop of reduced funding, the council started a transformation programme, which included transforming the HR function to deliver the vision, value and goals of the new council.

What the organisation did

  • Worked with Hay Group on a business case for a new HR service delivery model and what it would look like.
  • Negotiated with trade unions to deliver £9 million in savings by streamlining terms and conditions.
  • Reviewed management structures and roles to deliver annual savings of £8.5 million, which included the deletion of 220 managerial posts.
  • Developed a new leadership model, including removing the chief executive role.
  • Provided leadership and management development support to ensure that leaders were equipped to manage change.

Benefits and achievements

  • Increased employee engagement, which was up 20% in 2012 staff survey from the previous year.
  • Development of online self-service means managers have the confidence to manage people or performance issues with limited support.
  • Behaviours framework is now embedded in staff development initiatives, appraisals, corporate policies and guidance.
  • HR has demonstrated that it can add value by developing the capabilities to lead organisational transformation and cultural change.

Judge’s comments

“The effort required and the achievement of the prime objective on time brings credit to the HR team.” – Martin Rayson


Essex County Council: Transformation of the Workforce

About the organisation

Essex County Council is one of the largest local authorities in the UK, looking after around 1.4 million residents. It is a non-metropolitan county council, so responsibilities are shared between districts and in many areas also between civil parish councils.

The challenge

Facing radical restructuring and required to deliver savings of more than £300 million, Essex County Council’s HR team needed to become a strategic partner in the council’s three-year transformation programme.

What the organisation did

  • HR made the case for its “People and Change” programme and secured £1.1 million investment over two years.
  • This focused on four areas: supporting capability needs; leadership development; employee communications; and supporting change capacity.
  • Developed self-assessment tools to help employees and managers through the change and identify development needs.
  • Delivered performance management training to almost 2,500 managers.
  • Identified talent for senior roles, aligning key responsibilities to the most talented leaders.
  • Founded an operations board to support the council’s corporate leadership team.
  • Developed new channels of communication, such as an internal Yammer network and a newsletter.
  • Introduced new values, engaging staff to help identify them.

Benefits and achievements

  • Performance management training helped to exit 105 poor performers from the organisation.
  • Better response rates to employee surveys – at 77% in 2012, up from 45% in 2008.
  • Reached collective agreement on changes to terms and conditions, saving the council £1.5 million.
  • Review of organisation design has helped to save an estimated £14 million, and the number of line managers has been reduced by 408.
  • Reduced cost base of HR function by £1.1 million, or 10% of the HR budget, in a year.
  • Customer satisfaction with HR is at 90%, and 98% with schools.

Judge’s comments

“Strong all round.” – Richard Crouch


St Albans City and District Council

About the organisation

St Albans City and District Council is the local authority for the St Albans non-metropolitan district in Hertfordshire. The council provides a wide range of services, some outsourced, to 139,000 residents.

The challenge

In mid-2010, as part of widespread cuts to the public sector, the council anticipated a reduction of 40% in its government grant. It needed to act decisively to transform the workforce and set out to restructure the whole council, including reducing the headcount, but still maintain high levels of customer service.

What the organisation did

  • Decided to delete all old jobs, which included dismissing the entire staff and re-engaging them in new “job families”, with new job descriptions and new person specifications.
  • Full engagement with workforce and Unison on changes.
  • Used external assessors and development centres to identify individual capability, as well as online tools.
  • Voluntary redundancy and early retirement were offered.
  • Chief executive and heads of service met weekly with change management team to make decisions, agree on communications and monitor progress.
  • Developed detailed communications plans and staff-support programmes.

Benefits and achievements

  • The programme managed to reduce the budget gap resulting from the grant reduction.
  • Performance indicators are being met and absence is down by 39%.
  • Reduction of 70 full-time equivalent posts to 350, making direct savings in staff costs of £4.2 million over five years.
  • New pay system has saved £1 million in comparison to estimated costs of Single Status Agreement.
  • Achieved Investors in People re-accreditation in February 2012; a survey showed that the majority of staff felt supported in their roles.
  • Programmes such as “Future Leaders” have helped to retain valued talent.

Judge’s comments

“Clearly a lot achieved in terms of organisational and role redesign. Some helpful evidential data.” – Anne Gibson


Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)

About the organisation

Cafcass is a non-departmental public body that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children. It gives advice to the family courts, makes provision for children to be represented and provides information, advice and support to children and their families.

The challenge

Since the controversy surrounding the death of Baby P in 2007 and the serious case review that followed, there has been an unprecedented increase in demand for social care services. Cafcass needed to make fundamental changes in order to be able to respond to this demand at a time where the organisation’s resources were decreasing.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a fully integrated HR system in 2012, delivering more than £250 million in savings.
  • New system included self-service e-processing for HR admin tasks, and a range of bespoke features around areas such as employee relations, talent, recruitment and performance management.
  • HR policies were simplified and reduced in number by 50%, and in length by 75%.
  • Almost 1,000% increase in number of proactive health/wellbeing interventions.
  • Reduced recruitment lead-in time by 30% through streaming processes.
  • Delegated more authority to employees to self-manage casework.
  • Launched a new talent management strategy in 2013, ensuring all staff have access to professional development opportunities.

Benefits and achievements

  • Sickness absence rates more than halved since 2008/09; associated costs reduced from £3.5 million to £1.7 million.
  • Number of days lost to stress reduced by 69% since 2009/10, equating to 5,367 days of social work capacity.
  • Number of formal employee relations cases reduced by 48%, to 110 per year.
  • Overall workforce size reduced by around 12%, equating to efficiency savings of around £6 million.
  • Proportion of service managers assessed as “good” increased by 45% between 2009/10 and 2012/13.
  • Some 99.4% of private law cases are allocated to a children’s guardian at month end.

Judge’s comments

“There is ample evidence that the improvements in performance were driven by the actions taken in the workforce plan.” – Martin Rayson


City Health Care Partnership (CHCP)

About the organisation

CHCP is a social enterprise that was spun off from NHS Hull in June 2010. It employs around 1,400 staff, most of whom are medical professionals, to deliver publicly funded primary healthcare services to around 100 locations in Hull and East Riding.

The challenge

Although more than 1,000 staff who transferred over to CHCP through TUPE were still entitled to a generous NHS pension, new recruits and anyone else was not – even though levels of basic pay were the same. This had become a major stumbling block and the organisation needed to find ways to make staff feel the pay and benefits offering was comparable.

What the organisation did

  • Undertook major research and consultation programme to find out what employees would value.
  • Aligned the new scheme with CHCP corporate goals in areas such as employee engagement, sustainability, and health and wellbeing.
  • Created a flexible benefits offering, FLEXTRA, which was groundbreaking in the public sector. It included discounts, a car scheme, pension, a give-as-you-earn programme and the option to buy extra holiday.
  • Built a comprehensive marketing campaign to communicate the new scheme.
  • Had chief executive and senior level buy-in; the CEO included reference to the new benefits in his weekly blog.

Benefits and achievements

  • Scheme enrolment increased from 64 in 2011 to 165 in 2012.
  • Participation equalled around 15% in the first year, compared with typical take-up of flexible benefits in other social enterprises of just 0.8%.
  • Better communication of benefits in job ads has led to increased applications – 22.6 per vacant post in first quarter of 2012, compared with 12.3 in the same period in 2011.
  • Savings through salary sacrifice are on target to be around £100,000 in 2012/13.
  • CHCP will recover initial costs within three years of 2011 scheme launch.
  • Those aware of FLEXTRA rate higher in key areas of employee engagement.

Judge’s comments

“The challenge was addressed through the implementation of a flexible benefits solution, which contributed to improvements in the recruitment rates achieved by the team.” – Martin Rayson

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