Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013: Industrial relations: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013: Industrial relations: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013: Industrial relations: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma


One of the quandaries you face in the press is just what you do over leaked documents. When I was working in print it was easy, the procedure was everything just had to be double sourced. With Wirral Council that has in the past often caused problems as two bits of Wirral Council would flat-out contradict each other over the same facts!

The particular document I am referring to is the Ipsos Mori “Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013”. This contains such classic lines such as:

“The contents of this report are of a commercially sensitive and confidential nature and intended solely for the review and consideration of the person or entity to which it is addressed. No other use is permitted and the addressee undertakes not to disclose all or part of this report to any third party (including but not limited, where applicable, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2000) without the prior written consent of the Company Secretary of Ipsos MORI.”

Well thank goodness for a s.30 exemption to the copyright laws for the press is all I can say.

In an “open and transparent” public sector, where Wirral Council wanted to show how it had emerged from the nightmare of its past “industrial relations” issues, here’s just one industrial relations issue that would not be happening:

a) employee appeals/grievance hearings of Wirral Council employees now decided by Wirral Council management behind closed doors instead of councillors (unlike other local councils) at public meetings behind closed doors. Yes it was a Labour administration and Labour councillors that decided to change the constitution and go against the trade unions on that one!

b) excessive secrecy on HR matters (but I’m the press and I would say that wouldn’t I?), however it’s not just me but others that state the same thing?

The whole ninety-page document that is the Wirral Council Employee Survey 2013 (before you get to the appendices) is the kind of thing that councillors, the public, employees and others should be able to read, but I’m sure management would rather not like to ever see the light of day.

However considering management’s view on leaks, especially matters that relate to Graham Burgess, I will just remind people of part of the Chief Executive’s job description as Head of Paid Service:

“To act as Head of Paid Service to the Council and to provide workforce leadership for the Council.”

In other words the buck stops at him. OK answerable to the public then are councillors who are Cabinet Members, but from an officer perspective ultimately Graham Burgess (or whoever replaces him after the end of this year) sets the culture of the organisation when it comes to workforce matters.

For example is Wirral Council an organisation where councillors, management and the trade unions work harmoniously in partnership or is it one where senior officers (backed up by councillors) make veiled threats to cancel a meeting because of industrial relations matters in an attempt to somewhat avoid legal protections in order to damage openness and transparency?

It was during Graham Burgess’ tenure as Chief Executive/Head of Paid Service that the changes to the grievance and appeals procedures were changed. One of the reasons given at the time was that with large-scale redundancies, councillors would’ve been snowed under dealing with employee appeals.

That may be a legitimate reason to put forward for the change (and yes I have heard at least one former councillor moan during a public meeting about how terribly long-winded some employee appeals/grievances were). However taking councillors out of grievance appeals meant that any future whistleblowers would only be heard by management. Then management have a vested interest in making sure issues are resolved behind the scenes (such as paying off whistleblowers to leave and keep quiet) and then the underlying issues are not talked about by councillors in public meetings (making life easier for management) or indeed written about in the press.

I think it is about time I published some of the Human Resources related invoices to do with Employment Tribunals and employee issues so that the public can see how expensive to the public purse it is to not have effective internal processes to deal with employee matters. Previously such procedures (despite their flaws) relied not on the more independent decisions of councillors but now it’s purely officers who decide instead. I’m not saying councillors would make decisions that were less likely to result in large expensive legal bills, it’s just I personally disagree (a rare political point on my part) with the lack of political oversight in employee matters as it means councillors are less likely to know what’s going on.

I fully realise matters have been dealt with behind closed doors, but there is a point where too much secrecy can be counter productive in the public sector as it results in no one being personally accountable for the results of their actions.

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Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Special) 22nd January 2013 Four yearly elections, Destination Marketing, Pest Control, redundancies and procurement

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 22nd January 2013 Budget Options: Four yearly elections, Destination Marketing, fuel poverty, Pest Control,

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The Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee was a special meeting with only one main agenda item which was to discuss the 2013/16 Budget proposals which are currently part of a consultation with the public (until 31st January 2013).

The Chair, Cllr John Hale said that in his view the Committee was without a lot of the information he would’ve liked on the Budget options, and that he was “not in agreement with the move to four yearly elections”. He also disagreed with the saving on Destination Marketing as this money “brought an awful lot of visitors to the Wirral” and had spin offs for businesses on the Wirral.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem spokesperson) arrived and apologised for being late. The Chair asked Cllr Stuart Wittingham if he had any comments to make?

Cllr Wittingham said he was pleased that most of the savings were to the back office and that he wasn’t saying that the front line wouldn’t be affected. He had no comments to make on a four yearly election cycle but described it as a “substantial saving”.

The Chair said it was not a very substantial saving “at the cost of democracy” and that there was still “insufficient information”. He’d be moving to note matters with the exception of the four yearly elections that he was opposed to and the 100% cut to Destination Marketing, which he said supported major activities and brought in thousands of visitors to the Borough.

Cllr Hale had asked what the Pest Control reduction meant and that the answer given was that it would result in their staff being reduced from five to four. He said it also meant that the home insulation program which had only met 59% of its target wouldn’t be able to continue with the rest. However £50,000 would be kept in the Budget for fuel poverty.

Cllr Gilchrist said that previously when the Council had let people retire or take voluntary redundancy, there had been criteria that had had to be looked at such as the need to pass on their expertise or whether it would cause a problem for the service if they left, he asked if officers had discussed the rationale for restructuring?

The Chair asked Chris Hyams to answer the question.

She said the proposals were either for a restructure or service changes. In the case of a restructure, Chris Hyams said that they would seek volunteers first, but may need to move to compulsory redundancies. In order to maximise redeployment opportunities they would look for volunteers across the organisation. They couldn’t let people go where their jobs were required, but would be looking at things on a proposal by proposal basis.

Cllr Gilchrist made a further comment about redundancies.

Chris Hyams responded said the strategy had been to seek voluntary leavers, but ensuring they had the capacity in the services to let them go “at the appropriate time”. She gave the example of letting volunteers go in day services and redeploying people from residential to day services. However the voluntary leavers couldn’t leave until the redeployed workers were ready to move into their posts. She said they wanted to do it quick enough that they were not incurring the need for more savings, but at a time that was right taking into account their notice periods and with due consultation and process.

The Chair asked about suppliers.

The Wirral Council officer responded by saying, “Yeah Chair, thanks Chair, one of the one of the issues that had been identified through the work that the Local Government Association are doing with us with on the Improvement Plan is a weakness in procurement, how the Council procures its related goods and services. There are a number of processes that we can improve upon, one of the issues is that we have a purchase order system, but the majority of purchases don’t go through that purchase order system. So we believe that by improving the governance of that system to actually make it so that 90% goes through that purchase order system, we’ll be able to negotiate with suppliers and get a better deal. Hopefully the volume issue, we will get a better deal.

We’re also looking at how we actually manage our procurement function. One of the things that we’re doing is basically is to have overall category managers, which have an area of spend rather than the generic purchasing officers. A category manager would have an area of spend for instance Adult Social Services and become knowledgeable in that field and achieve savings with suppliers. We feel that the evidence from other councils is that we’re not getting value for money now just now and that the savings are achievable if we can actually both improve our processes and improve maybe we carry out procurement with these category managers.

It’s a process that’s used in the private sector and maybe we’ll use it in the public sector. We’re looking at best practice elsewhere, we’re getting advice both from other Councils and from the Local Government Association, now we actually need a step change in getting more out of our procurement activity because clearly with the financial challenges that the Council’s facing we’ve got to get more for less in effect and we believe that we can actually achieve the savings in procurement.”

Wirral Council Consultation: What Really Matters (Part 2)

An opinion piece on staff cuts at Wirral Council and the current consultation.

English: Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England a...
English: Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England as seen from the promenade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OPINION BY JOHN BRACE: Well as promised at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Wirral Council has published its option papers for part two of the What Really Matters consultation.

As explained on the website the options are about 25% more than the savings required (so the consultation is really about the 25% of things Wirral Council does in the options the public would like to save). Despite stating on their website that the consultation lasts until January 31st 2013, some decisions will be have to be made at the special Cabinet meetings on December 20th 2012 to comply with legal requirements on consultation with the workforce.

There will be more unspecified “consultation events” and of course staff/trade union consultation too. What does this mean for staff working in service areas identified as a budget option? It means basically one of two things if you’re an employee in a service area that’s become an “option”:-

(a) you’ll could be lucky this year and end up in the 25% of options that aren’t cut, due to public/staff support in this current consultation or other reasons (but this doesn’t rule out your post being cut in future years),

(b) once the special Cabinet meeting (followed by the Employment and Appointments Committee) of 20th December 2012 meets your job could be at risk under the new (recently approved) less generous redundancy scheme

How many jobs will go at Wirral Council as a result of this? Well the law requires this kind of consultation for over twenty redundancies, the real figure partly depends on a bunch of decisions yet to be made, however if you add the predicted shortfall of £25.4 million next year to the current required in-year savings of £13.2 million, you get £38.6 million.

Obviously not all the £38.6 million will be staff’s salaries and some staff are directly employed by schools. These figures are based on full-time equivalents, as Wirral Council employs a lot of part-time workers, the real figures could be higher than this estimate.

However by my rough estimates it would be around 154 to 1,026 FT employees that will need to go to balance the books. With those types of numbers involved it won’t just the normal reasons people leave and there will have to be redundancies. The specifics of who, how many and which service areas has yet to be decided (apart from some Executive Team decisions on the current in year savings).

Employment and Appointments Committee (Wirral Council) 8th November 2012

Employment and Appointments Committee (Wirral Council) 8th November 2012

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The short Employment and Appointments Committee was held after the well-attended Cabinet meeting.