Relocating the Civil Service

The
relocation of 20,000 civil service posts out of London and the South East – as
detailed in the Lyons report – will prove a massive challenge for HR
departments in Whitehall. The report, backed by Gordon Brown in his Budget last
week, is part of the Government’s drive to improve efficiency and cut costs
across the Civil Service. Here, Mike Berry looks at one civil service
organisation that has already faced the challenge of a major relocation
exercise.

The
Met Office is one of the world’s leading providers of environmental and
weather-related services. It serves the public, government, education, aviation
and numerous other sectors through broadcasters and online media.

Its
recent mammoth relocation reflects the Government’s aim to move swathes of civil
service posts out of London and the South East.

The
move involved relocating more than 1,000 staff and one of the most complex IT
moves ever undertaken in Europe. The project has been so successful that the
Met Office is now offering advice and expertise to others contemplating major
relocation moves.

The
Met Office opted to move from an outdated 1960s headquarters building in
Bracknell in November 2000 and selected Exeter from a range of potential
locations. Work began on the Greenfield site on the edge of the city towards
the end of 2001.

Graham
Cooper, incoming group head of HR at the Met Office, and also part of the
relocation team, says: “At the start of the project, we made it clear to our
staff that they had a future with us, that future was worth relocating for, and
we could help resolve family issues.”

“The
decision to relocate was communicated to staff in an open and honest manner. We
explained there was good news, but there might also be bad news,” he says.

 Cooper says Met Office staff played a major
part in choosing the location and the design and layout of the new building.

 “We conducted focus groups made up of staff
and trade unions and asked what people were looking for. We then examined how
that compared to what the board wanted and how it fitted in with our core
business aims,” he says.

 It became clear to Cooper that certain issues
were obviously of great importance for staff and their families. “Selling the
proposed location was vital,” he says.

 “We took staff and their families on
reconnaissance visits to Exeter. We made sure crèche facilities were available
for staff when looking at housing and local facilities.”

The
organisation also ensured local council representatives were available to answer
staff queries, and organised a series of seminars in the Bracknell office where
teachers and social services met staff.

“We
began to recruit people from the Devon area early and brought them to work in
Bracknell to increase the ratio of workers from the new location,” says Cooper.

When
the Met Office moved during late 2003, it achieved a staff transfer rate of
83.4 per cent to Exeter from the Bracknell office.

“We
moved on budget, on time and maintained business continuity. From a staff point
of view, they saw the employer as organised, prepared to listen and to do
things in the proper manner,” says Cooper.

The
move to Exeter has also directly resulted in more than 100 jobs for people from
the area.

Peter
Ewins, chief executive of the Met Office, said: “The success of this move owes
a great deal to the hard work of our staff and the detailed planning throughout
the organisation. Relocation only runs smoothly if all partners are totally
committed to success.”

www.met-office.gov.uk

Lyons
Review: key points


Conducted by Sir Michael Lyons, director of the University of Birmingham’s
Institute of Local Government Studies


20,000 civil service posts to be relocated


11,800 posts recruited locally


7,000 redundancies


Savings in wages and rental costs of £2.7bn within 15 years


Average relocation package cost £32,000 per civil servant, or a £65,000
compensation payment for redundancy


Number of posts relocated could rise to 60,000 within 15 years


Highest number of relocations to come from Department of Work and Pensions,
Ministry of Defence, Chancellor’s departments and Home Office.

 

 

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