To consider the report of the Head of
Consideration was given to the report of the Head of Organisational Development.
The Head of Organisational Development presented the report which provided Members with the opportunity to scrutinise, challenge and make suggestions on the proposed Agile Working Policy for the Council’s workforce further to the report that was approved at Council on the 25th March, 2021 on the New Council Operating Model & Working Arrangements
The Officer advised that the introduction of a new model of agile working would bring modern working practices, enhance employees’ working experience, maximise performance and productivity and realise financial gains. The Agile Working Policy being key to delivering the future working model and linked to the Council’s vision for sustainable development including sustainable economic growth and decarbonisation.
The Head of Organisational Development further spoke to the report and noted the responsibilities as detailed in the Policy. The Officer noted that Unison, GMB and Unite trade unions had all been fully engaged in the development of the and the draft Agile Working Policy.
The Draft Policy had been sent to trade unions for formal consultation and two requests had been received from Unison for consideration, as follows:-
· Unison would like to see a £16 allowance for Agile workers not £12. The Corporate Leadership Team discussed this proposal and support a figure of £15.60 to recommend to Members for their consideration (pro rata figure which would be fair to all workers); and
· all current employees that are designated as home or agile workers be able to utilise an allowance of up to £200 to cover the cost of a chair and desk that would be able to fit in within the home environment. The allowance to be used with an approved council supplier. The Corporate Leadership Team support the choice for the workforce from approved suppliers/including recycled equipment. Unison also requested that any future workforce (new recruits) be given the option of the allowance if they are paid scale 6 or below.
The Head of Organisational Development referred Members to the options and noted the preferred option.
The Officer invited questions/comments from the Members at this juncture.
A Member asked that following approval of the New Working Arrangements which formulated this Policy had any members of staff left the Council sighting agile working as the reason.
The Member stated that he had made his point clear at the Council meeting and reiterated that he was totally against the new way of working at this time. The Member had many concerns which included employee’s mental health. The last year during the pandemic had been horrendous which saw people confined to their homes. The Member wanted assurances from the Council that if an employee did not wish to work from home for a specific reason that this would be accommodated.
The Head of Organisational Development advised that as part of the Policy there were a number of documents to be completed with the employee and their manager as part of 1-2-1 consultation meetings to be undertaken. The individual’s circumstances, their health and wellbeing and mental health would all be taken into account and if adjustments are to be made these would be put in place. The 1-2-1s would identify the individuals needs and agree an appropriate course of action or adjustment. Homeworking will not be forced on any member of the workforce.
The Head of Organisational Development said she was not aware that any members of staff had left the Authority because of plans for the New Council Operating Model.
The Member had hoped that all employees would be dealt with sympathetically.
The Member also noted the £15.60 put forward by the Corporate Leadership Team and proposed that the figure be rounded up to £16.00 in conjunction with the Trade Unions proposal.
At the invitation of the Chair, the Trade Union representative addressed the Committee. The representative welcomed the opportunity to attend the meeting to ensure that any misinformation could be clarified for Members. The Trade Union representative advised that staff and Elected Members had stepped up to the way in which the pandemic had seen the Council work from home and adjust to new technology in the past year.
The Trade Union representative advised that the option for home working had been raised by unions at the WLGA and at the Workforce Partnership for Wales. The work undertaken with the Council had been first class and the Council was now at an important stage in the process. It was added that as part of that work by the trade unions, a survey of 1000 people from across Wales was undertaken and this would be shared with staff shortly. The thinking and negotiating of the trade unions had been captured in the policy and advised that the £16.00 costs had been rounded up from the £15.60 put forward by CLT, however, the Trade Union representative confirmed that the £15.60 was in line with HMRC and based on the 3 days pro rata, therefore, the £15.60 was acceptable.
The Trade Union representative noted the comments raised by the Members and stated that no one would be forced to work from home. There could be a number of reasons for this in relation to mental health issues, the health and safety of the employee or an issue in terms of confidentiality within their home environment. Therefore, it was reiterated that no one would be would be forced to work from home and these assurances had been given by the Council.
With regard to ‘office’ furniture, the Trade Union representative appreciated that it would be beneficial to repurpose the office furniture currently used, however, we needed to be mindful that this furniture would be in employees’ homes. There are some instances where that particular furniture may not fit the décor of the employee homes or be suitable for their home space, therefore on these occasions employees would be allowed to purchase their own furniture. The trade unions also felt it was important to provide an allowance to staff on a Scale 6 and new recruits who are lower paid to ensure our lowest paid workers are supported.
The Trade Union representative also suggested that consideration be given to mileage policy and it was put forward that mileage be claimed from the boundary of Blaenau Gwent and not their homes which would be a financial saving to the Council.
The Unison Representative informed that Blaenau Gwent was the first local authority in Wales to deliver on this Agile Working Policy and it was paramount that in order for it to be successful our staff needed to be supported. During the last year staff had to endure many hardships and needed to make decisions whether to feed their children or put on the heating, unfortunately these were the sacrifices of the cost of living for our lower paid staff. This was another reason for 1-2-1s with employees as any concerns would be addressed and the Trade Union representative reiterated that employees would be given a choice. There were employees who wanted to work from home as well as employees who do not want to work at home and both these options could be supported.
The Trade Union representative said that the Union supported the report progressing to Council. The staff had been working over a year with this uncertainty and it was important that such assurances are now given to staff.
The Chair invited questions/observations from Members at this juncture.
In response to concerns raised around the monies to be paid to staff as well as monies which could be claimed via the HMRC. The Chief Officer Resources advised that the budget implication was due to the payment the Council had proposed of £26.00 per month or £15.60 per month dependant whether staff were permanent home workers or agile respectively. If workers were in receipt of these allowances from the Council, then no claims can be made for tax relief from HMRC.
The Chief Officer Resources added that the Council would be responsible for the costs to be paid to staff.
It was further asked if employees needed to create office space in their homes would the Authority be in position to provide staff with a loan to undertake these adjustments, to allow, if needed, that additional space and/or confidentiality.
The Chief Officer Resources advised that this assistance had been considered, however the Council was not in position to offer significant loans to staff for changes to their properties or to purchase summer houses.
The Trade Union representative added that work across other authorities in Wales was currently being held up as not all local authorities wanted to provide an agile working allowance. It was felt that staff were saving on travelling expenses, therefore such payments are outweighed. It was felt that Blaenau Gwent Council was adjusting as an employer of choice and through the pandemic the Authority had realised that there was benefits from home working for our staff. The Unison Representative felt that the new working arrangements would be beneficial to the staff.
Further concerns were raised around home working and it was reiterated that staff would not be forced to work from home.
In terms of accommodating staff, it was confirmed that the Council was confident that staff who did not want to work from home could be accommodated in existing buildings.
A Member referred to Monmouthshire County Council who had proposed hybrid working arrangements and the Head of Organisational Development confirmed a hybrid worker was the same as an agile worker, working between home and office buildings.
Another Member welcomed the report and the joint working between the Council and trade unions to achieve these negotiations for the benefit of staff. The Member felt that the agile working arrangements was good news for the Authority and was satisfied that the Council’s staff well-being had been considered. It was also excellent news that this Council was the first to achieve such a modern way of working.
A Member felt that there were areas missing from the Policy in relation to training and development of new employees, and possibly a period of time in the office before taking up position at home.
Also, the Member raised concerns around the recruitment of new staff, as an agile worker the person could reside anywhere and work from home. The Council was the largest employer in Blaenau Gwent and therefore it was important that local jobs be retained locally. A mileage stipulation for officers on a particular grade should also be considered for future applicants. It was proposed that there be a social clause applied to contracts that recruitment was made within about 30 miles of the Borough.
The Head of Organisational Development advised that there would be an engagement plan which included training and development programme which would run alongside this policy for leaders and the workforce. The induction programme across the Council would need to be reviewed not just in conjunction with the policy but also in line with the digital opportunities now available.
In terms of recruitment, it was reported that the majority of Council staff were frontline and school based staff. The agile and permanent home workers were only a fraction of the workforce.
The Head of Organisational Development advised that the mileage policy would be reviewed once the Agile Working Policy had been approved by full Council.
The Trade Union representative added that the Council was aware of the importance of retaining jobs locally and noted that during recent recruitment for the Track, Trace and Protect roles individuals were applying from Birmingham. The Trade Union representative was pleased to confirm that Blaenau Gwent took on board the ‘local jobs for local people’ and the majority of employees were from the local areas.
In response to a question raised in relation to staff being asked to clear their desks at the Civic Centre, it was reported that this had not been a formal instruction as there was agreed protocols in place for staff who wished to enter the Civic Centre.
In response to a question raised in relation to trade union involvement, it was confirmed that all unions had been consulted and the Unison Representative had been invited to speak on behalf of the Joint Trade Unions.
A Member asked if staff had been consulted if they were not in a union. It confirmed that staff had been communicated via the MD Message, updates from managers and would be individually consulted in the 1-2-1 engagement with managers and staff.
The Chair thanked the Trade Unions for their involvement and cooperation as well as officers for producing an excellent report. The Chair also expressed thanks to Mr. D. Rees for his presentation and response to questions raised by Members.
A Member pointed out that the Committee was making a recommendation to Council, however this would not prohibit further questioning at Council. The Member concurred with the Officer that the Policy was a live document and stated that views could change. The Member supported Option 2 in this instance notwithstanding things could change following consideration at Council.
A Member seconded Option 2, although taking into account young people’s future within this Borough, the Member requested that Organisational Development give consideration to an employee local social clause as part of the recruitment process.
It was further informed that £15.60 allowance was agreed following the explanation from the Unison Representative.
It was proposed that the Council and the unions recognise local people for employment within Blaenau Gwent Council as vacancies arise to ensure jobs are kept within the locality of the Borough.
This course of action was AGREED.
The Committee AGREED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and endorse Option 2; namely the formal representations of the trade union was considered and amendments was suggested to the policy prior to presentation at Council.