Hello PPMA members and friends

The PPMA’s great strength lies in its regions. At the Annual Seminar this week all our regions will be represented and the work they are doing will be highlighted. This blog outlines how the PPMA region in Northern Ireland is facilitating collaboration between individual local authorities to take forward important work around change. This is a great example of HR and the PPMA being “centre-stage”.

In common with the public sector and local government in other regions major change is underway in Northern Ireland.  Our change is focussed on structure at this point with the current 26 local authorities amalgamating to 11 new councils in 2015 and elections to shadow councils in 2014.

Local government reorganisation is part of a wider public sector reform process which has been ongoing since 2006 but the implementation of the local government part of the process has already been delayed twice, firstly in 2009 and again in 2011, leading to uncertainty, disappointment and cynicism amongst council staff and elected members.  As a previous Staff Commission Chairman was famously heard to say “the Second World War was over quicker than this”.

In addition to the changes associated with reform there is also a major sector-led Improvement, Collaboration and Efficiencies (ICE) transformation project underway in the sector.

PPMA taking the lead

It is hard to maintain enthusiasm in these circumstances but through all this uncertainty, and in an effort to keep our focus on positive and supportive improvements regardless of the bigger political picture, PPMA have been working closely with the Local Government Staff Commission and SOLACE NI to develop and implement a People and OD Strategy for the sector.  The purpose of the Strategy is to provide a route map for us to support and develop our people and organisations to deliver the changes necessary for Reform, ICE or whatever else our political masters throw at us!

The Strategy is delivered via working groups for each of six Strategic Pillars lead by a SOLACE-nominated chief executive and a PPMA-nominated HR practitioner.  At the end of the first year of activity we have published and gained sectoral approval for a Leadership Framework and Academy, and for a Performance Culture Model which provides an holistic approach to organisation and sectoral performance.  We have also just published a new Industrial Relations Model and Employee Relations Framework for consultation in the sector.

The partnership of PPMA and the Staff Commission has put the HR profession at the forefront of activity and achievement in the ICE programme particularly – in contrast, it must be said, to most of the other professional groups.  Our successes so far include:

·    A Competency Framework developed for use across the sector comprising 4 competence groups with indicative behaviours for employees working at Strategic, Operational and Front Line levels.
·    Collaboration across all 26 Councils to establish ‘Local Government Jobs’ a composite advertising campaign which delivered a 66% saving in the total advertising spend across the sector in its first year and which continues to deliver significant savings.  This has also helped develop the Local Government brand in Northern Ireland and there are now plans for an on-line recruitment portal.
·    The development of batches of Situational Judgement Tests for high-volume recruitment posts which will also ultimately facilitate joint and central recruitment in the sector and call-off lists of candidates.
·    Collaboration in the procurement of Occupational Health and Employee Well-being services for councils.
·    The publishing of a suite of updated model HR policies for councils.

We appreciate that our successes may seem modest to some of you but in our small-scale, sometimes fiercely autonomous authorities these activities do ease the pressure on small generalist HR teams by sharing the developmental workload.  These activities are also laying the groundwork for greater cohesion and sharing across the sector and help demonstrate that if HR can do it, so can some of the other services.

Success of the Region Operating Model

We are often asked by PPMA colleagues why our Region is so strong – we have members in all 26 councils and we meet every month with around 20 councils represented at each meeting.  The simple answer is that our Region operating model works for us.  It is a mixture of updating members on strategic sectoral and HR issues, providing a supportive, sharing environment for the discussion of operational HR issues and sharing the load on developmental work – it is also very local government focussed, out of kilter with the national direction perhaps, but it is what works in our context.

We work hard on our relationships in the sector (SOLACE, Department of the Environment, NI LGA etc.) and we step up or ‘lean in’ to use a topical phrase when we are asked, and have been rewarded in terms of recognition and professional respect.  Through the Staff Commission and the Local Government Training Group we are also able to access quality professional training and updating specifically for our members at low, or sometimes no, cost.

So now that you know a bit more about us, look out for the usual rowdy crowd of us at the Seminar in Bristol.  We are always looking for precious connections to HR colleagues and are happy to share our experiences if they are of interest to anyone.

Linda Leahy, Region Secretary PPMA NI
Director – Talent & Development and Deputy Chief Executive, the Local Government Staff Commission for NI
[email protected]