The Impact of HR - Workforce news, March 2016


In this video we look at the impact HR's having on our organisations and what strategic work they're doing to help councils make changes.

To contact the Workforce Team about any comments and ideas email: workforce@local.gov.uk.

Podcast transcript

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 00:13 – 00:52)
Hi and welcome to the new addition of our Workforce News Podcast.  In recent podcasts we've been looking at the transformation and the changes that councils have been making that are affecting our workplaces and our workforce, typically this is seen as the domain of HR, so we thought we'll have a look at the impact HR's having on our organisations and what strategic work they're doing to help the councils make changes. And to help us with that we have Barry Pirie from the PPMA, current President of the PPMA, and we have Sarah Messenger, the Head of Workforce here at LGA.  Barry the changes that councils are going through have also meant big changes for HR haven't they? 

Barry Pirie, President, Public Services People Managers' Association
(Time: 00:53 – 01:40)
Absolutely, there's been tremendous change for local government as well as government over the last five years.  I think austerity, as I've said many a times, has been really interesting and a good thing for us in terms of local government, because what it's allowed us to do is challenge, look at how we deliver our services and actually think differently. I think at the heart of that HR and OD have a clear role to support the business, to support the business leaders, both political and in terms of leadership terms, to actually force us to think of the new business models that we need to be delivering differently for now and in the future. We need to be even more thinking about how our organisations can work together on different terms and conditions, in different teams, with the flexibility the business needs, that we need to move forward.  

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 01:41 – 01:49)
So Sarah, as you've been travelling around the country and seeing the different things councils are doing, what have you noticed that HR's doing that maybe they weren't doing before?

Sarah Messenger, Head of Workforce, LGA
(Time: 01:50 – 02:51)
I think there's a lot of really interesting and exciting stuff going on in HR, there's a lot of hard work going on as well.  There's some really difficult stuff that HR professionals have had to deal with over the last few years, not least around redundancies and changes to terms and conditions, and they're getting on with that, but most HR people have absolutely grasped and risen to the challenge of having to think very creatively and imaginatively about how we do things differently, and that's looking at a whole range of things from the way we employ people, the pay and reward that we have for them, the way we engage them, the way we design jobs, a whole range of things, the skills we need as we deliver services differently in the digital age.  And I think I'm seeing lots and lots of that going on as well as kind of keeping things going with all the day to day HR stuff that our workforce rely on. They still want to be paid on the right day, they still need things processing in the right way, but that creativity is definitely very, very visible and has been for the last five years or so. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 02:52 – 02:54)
So Barry what kind of work is HR doing?

Barry Pirie, President, Public Services People Managers' Association
(Time: 02:55 – 03:34)
I think Sarah has really highlighted the change; it's been a rapid and transformational change going from an HR function that was solely transactional to a strategic partner.  Now what does that mean in terms of practical skills?  I think the skills have changed, I think the skills are different, transactional HR and employment skills are still required, they're still very important, but I think it's a new skill in terms of business skill, again a key skill that HR needs to be able to deliver and support the business changing, the key skill is how do we attract and truly recruit and retain the key skills required for now and for the future – big challenge, big challenge.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 03:35 – 03:41)
So Sarah can you tell me, what are we doing to help HR take on all these new challenges and get these new skills?

Sarah Messenger, Head of Workforce, LGA
(Time: 03:42 – 05:31)
Well we're doing a lot within the LGA, but importantly we're doing a lot with partner organisations like PPMA and Solis.  And I think actually just to echo some of what Barry said, I think HR professionals throughout local government deserve a lot of praise and credit, because to some extent they don't need lots of help, they've risen to these challenges and done a lot of this themselves, at the same time if there are things that we can help them think through nationally or that we can design nationally for use within individual councils that saves them having to do it then I think that's one of the key roles of a national body.  So there are lots of things that we've been doing around organisational design and the DMA tool, we've got a new initiative with Timewise, which is about really bringing a true definition of flexibility to life within a council, not just in terms of the workforce we employ, but also the employers that operate within council areas.  We're doing a lot of work around employee engagement, really thinking through what pay and reward is going to look like in the future, particularly with the new National Living Wage and the need to re-design the national pay spine, but also around driving value for money in terms of what we're paying people and the jobs we want them to do and the skills we need for them to do those jobs effectively. 

And a really exciting piece of work that we're doing with PPMA and Solis which is around the concept of the 21st century public servant, a really interesting concept, lots of people have engaged with it, but the obvious next question is what's this going to look like in my council?  So we're intending to produce an e-book that will really bring to life what the 21st century public servant is, what kind of jobs they do, what kind of behaviours we expect of them and bring that to life in a way that lots of people across councils will be able to understand how that might apply to them.    

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 05:32 – 05:52)
Sarah, Barry, that was really interesting, thank you very much.  We're now going to hear from two councils about the impact that HR is making in their organisation. First of all we're going to hear from Clare Marchant and she is the Chief Executive at Worcestershire County Council – Clare can you tell me what are the main priorities for you as chief executive in the next few years?

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive, Worcestershire County Council
(Time: 05:53 – 06:41)
For me as a Chief Exec at Worcestershire County Council three priorities, start with culture, we have an ever reducing workforce and I want it to be a place where people really want to come and work at Worcestershire County Council, that we're agile, that we're pacey, we're dynamic, we're modern, and so really working culturally over a long period, because it does take time to change. The second, it goes without saying, is budget, you know increasingly difficult and challenging financial times and so working to be the most innovative we possibly can be to really make most use of what we call the Worcestershire pound. And the third would be a place shaping role, so for me a priority as Chief Exec is to work with other partners, be they police or health or any of our districts to really make sure that we are as innovative with partners as we possibly can be and really sharing risk as much as we can be as well.      

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 06:42 – 06:46)
And what role will your HR team play for you in meeting these priorities?

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive, Worcestershire County Council
(Time: 06:47 – 07:42)
In terms of our HR team at Worcestershire County Council, and quite a lot of it I get at the moment, I really like to see them leading the way in terms of a workforce strategy that changes the culture over time, really investing in our management and our leadership, because we know if we get that right we can bring people through the organisation, investing in our talent, whether that be at the mid-career point, apprenticeships, graduates or later in career. I'd like for them to be changing the way they work as well, leading the way how they do things, whether that be exercising commissioning processes for us in their own function, being as effective and efficient as they can be, the use of digital, the use of flexible mobile working in their own function to really lead the way. I also think HR can be very innovative, so I'd like to see them exercising innovation about how we are as a corporate parent, how we look to work with other parts of the public sector across Worcestershire, you know how we really exercise innovation out of all of our staff, not just the people at the top.       

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 07:43 – 07:47)
And Clare can you tell me how is your HR team changing to help deliver this?

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive, Worcestershire County Council
(Time: 07:48 – 08:33)
Within Worcestershire County Council it's on a journey like most other functions in the council and I would say it's gone from probably more reactive to much more proactive over the last few years, leading things like some of our terms and conditions changes and being at the forefront of that, really leading in terms of our leadership development and our recruitment, we know that actually if you get the right people through the door the rest is really easy.  So being right at the forefront of that, but I like to see them leading on things working with property colleagues, working with colleagues from other parts of the public sector, I'd like to see them doing more and more of that as we move forward. And understanding the absolute corporate plan, the strategy of the organisation and seeing where they can add value at all parts of that rather than what has previously been seen as quite narrow constraints of a HR function.      

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 08:34 – 08:50)
Thank you Clare.  We're now going to speak to Caroline Nugent and she has a very interesting joint role as a HR Director for two councils at Havering and Newham. Caroline, can you tell me what are the three key things you're planning to deliver for your council in the next few years?

Caroline Nugent, Director of HR, Havering and Newham 
(Time: 08:51 – 09:22)
Across the two councils we've got a 20/20 programme in Newham which incorporates a number of things, spans and layers, job evaluation, some terms and conditions work, and really looking at cultures and behaviours. We're also looking at terms and conditions in Havering Council and re-looking at our reward mechanism and then employee resourcing from the whole thing around agency work and sickness, succession planning, talent management, so really virtually everything that we're doing at the moment. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 09:23 – 09:25)
And what are the challenges for you in delivering this?

Caroline Nugent, Director of HR, Havering and Newham 
(Time: 09:26 – 09:59)
I suppose it's difficult with the two different political spectrums; I've got a Labour Mayor and a Conservative in residence at Havering, it's the different spectrums that we're going through from those work priorities and getting them to realise that when you share a Director, as a number of us are, there's half of you to cover those work areas and it's what the priorities are at that time. And also the fact with HR were going through a transformation review and a restructure, so trying to downsize whilst getting the team motivated to do that work at the same time.  

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 10:00 – 10:04)
And Caroline can you tell us how has your role changed over the last few years?

Caroline Nugent, Director of HR, Havering and Newham 
(Time: 10:05 – 10:35)
I think for me it's covering two councils, two completely different political spectrums, different ways of working, and having the knowledge that you've got, putting that into each council, but not thinking I've done this here therefore I can just introduce that into that council. So I think it's got to be sort of that flexibility and knowing what's going on externally, not being internally focused and really seeing with mutuals, with the small business programme we're doing at Newham, that we're really trying to see what's out there and what can fit in for each of those councils. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 10:36 – 10:54)
Thank you both, that was really useful. And now we have our regular employment law update from Phil Bundy.  Phil we've got lots to cover today, there's lots going on, but can we start with a topic that's generating the most questions for you, which is the restrictions on public sector exit payment – can you tell us about that?

Philip Bundy, Senior Employment Law Advisor
(Time: 10:55 – 11:54)
Yeah, sure, when we're looking at exit payments we're talking about things like redundancy payments and what the government's introducing is a £95,000 cap on public sector exit payments, but it's also bringing in a restriction for high earners, so if anybody who earns £80,000 or more gets an exit payment and then they leave and get a job within 12 months with another body in the public sector they've got to pay back most or some of that money on a pro-rata basis depending on how soon after they leave the old employer they join the new employer, subject to an ultimate 12 months sort of stop when they don't have to repay anything. Now one of the key issues for us is that it's going to include payments that employers have to make to pensions to top them up when someone aged 55 or over is made redundant, and that's going to be included within the scope of the £95,000 cap but also within the recovery provisions.  And that raises a whole load of sort of technical practical issues that we've raised with the government.  

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 11:55 – 11:57)
So Phil when can we expect to see these new regulations coming in?

Philip Bundy, Senior Employment Law Advisor
(Time: 11:58 – 12:37)
There's no firm date yet, but in terms of the £95,000 cap we're probably looking at sort of early autumn this year, October's been talked about as a date, but as I said there's no firm date.  And for the recovery stuff that could be as early as April this year. But I know this is an issue for authorities because they've got people coming to them saying, "Hey, I'm potentially redundant, is the cap going to hit me, am I going to have to pay back some of my redundancy payment?" And I think all we can say to those authorities at the moment is you can tell them what you think the position is, but it's very important you don't start making commitments to your employees about the cap won't affect them and the recovery provisions won't affect them.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 12:38 – 12:47)
Okay, so it's not a lot to go on at the moment, but we have got some more technical guidance on this on the website. I know you've been working with some frequently asked questions and things like that.

Philip Bundy, Senior Employment Law Advisor
(Time: 12:48 – 12:53)
Sure, there's that on the website and there's the bulletins as well that have got all the technical details there for people to look at. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 12:54 – 13:02)
So there's more to come on that Phil, but moving onto another topic for now, you've got some brief updates on quite a few other things that are happening.

Philip Bundy, Senior Employment Law Advisor
(Time: 13:03 – 14:44)
Sure, you know we've got a lot of employment law developments coming over the course of the next year, one of them that's a high profile one is the Trade Union Bill, it's working its way through parliament at the moment. And the big issues there, it's going to put restrictions on things like industrial action ballots and also pickets, but for public sector employers, and that includes local authorities obviously, one of the key issues for us is it's going to actually make it against the law for employers to operate the check-off system, and by that I mean a system whereby trade union subs are automatically taken off employees pay through the payroll system. There's no date yet for implementation yet, but we'll keep people updated through the bulletins on that. But one thing I would like to mention now, because it's not getting as much publicity, is a provision in the Immigration Bill that's going to make it a requirement for all public facing public sector workers to speak fluent English or Welsh, and the government's been consulting on a statutory code that's going to work with this and we've responded to that saying we don't want lots of red tape around this, we don't want formal tests, what we want is if you've got an employee already doing a customer facing role you can just sort of get the manager to take a common sense assessment of whether they can speak fluent Welsh or English as appropriate. So we've responded on that basis and we'll be keeping people updated on the code as it develops and is finalised. One other final point as well is that this fluency requirement doesn't apply to accents or dialects, so councils are going to need to make it clear in their complaints procedures that actually complaints about someone's accent, their dialect doesn't fall within this new duty that's coming in.        

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 14:45 – 15:03)
Thank you Phil, it sounds like you've got a busy time ahead of you. That's it for this time, but as usual if you have any questions or any comments on any of the topics we've talked about today you can get in touch with us on the usual email address, which is workforce@local.gov.uk, or you can have a look at our website for any of the topics as well.