My local authority has joined a growing number, of varying sizes and in various locations, who have been reported as: 'struggling to balance the books'.
Austerity has been with us all in local government for eight, long years. We have arrived at this point by a gradual process that has chipped away at the essence of local authorities – the services we deliver and the structures we use to deliver them. The accumulative effect, built up over years of budget cuts, adds to the anticipation around setting a sustainable budget. Every year finance colleagues have managed to pull another rabbit out of the hat.
I see no end to the ‘efficiencies’ that we have lived with since 2010. With Christmas on the horizon redundancies and staff reductions through voluntary redundancies sees the workforce shrink further. There is increasing expectation on the remaining staff to fill the gaps. It creates an uncomfortable but all too familiar atmosphere. With a notification of one’s job being ‘at risk’ comes uncertainty and an unease as to what the future holds. Who’s next?
It is a stressful situation. Stress in the workplace is real and affects people in different ways. It affects both those at risk and those who have a secure post - for now. Stress also increases the risk of mistakes. A lapse in concentration sees an email sent to the wrong person or even worse, a whole mailing list, resulting in data protection issues and the possibilities of financial penalty, plus more unwanted publicity.
These risks are real when people are under pressure. Like most organisations we have a Stress at Work policy but stress at work needs to be understood and managed. It is like any other risk, only this is personal. We need to remember we are assessing people - just having a policy is not enough.
The long-term effect of a stressed workforce on an organisation may not be felt for some time. But it will have an effect. Senior leaders need to consider the resilience of their organisation into the future.
Austerity is over, so the future is bright, right? We have to dare to imagine the future. A secure future comes down to the right planning. It’s like that question you get at a job interview: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ Without looking to the future - doing some scenario planning and assessing the risks and opportunities open to you - how do you know you have a future?
In the short-term we should all consider (at a service level) our risks to success, but we should also consider internal and external factors that can hinder our best efforts to provide services. Do you have a solid business continuity plan (BCP) to guide you when things don’t run smoothly? Who wrote the plan? Was it one manager or a team? Who owns the plan? But of course, a BCP is worthless unless it is up to date and tested. It’s also not much good if your teams don’t know how to access it.
Business continuity is an essential discipline, particularly over winter. With a smaller workforce could we cope with a pandemic flu incident as well? Staff reduction makes business continuity more of a challenge, but with planning it is not impossible. Reviewing your business continuity plans, as well as your workforce resilience, just makes more people realise how important managing our risks really is.
Pam Pursley, Risk Manager, Somerset County Council and ALARM Board Director.