The Board's role
Few public services have the profile and the political sensitivity of policing in Northern Ireland. The Policing Board is the oversight body that holds the Police Service of Northern Ireland to account, ensuring an effective and efficient local police service. It is responsible for setting targets and priorities for the police service and then monitoring its performance. The Board also has responsibility for recruiting, and if necessary, disciplining and dismissing the most senior police officers and senior civilian staff.
The Board is comprised of political and independent members, supported by a staff team of approximately 50, split across 3 Directorates and led by the Chief Executive.
A pragmatic solution to a complex challenge
The Board has arrangements and resources in place to cover routine transactional human resources activities. However, when a particularly sensitive issue arises, or one that is particularly complex, or requires an intervention at a senior level, the Board requires specialist HR assistance, which doesn't exist internally.
In addition, there is a structural complexity resulting from the Board being responsible for 4 distinct groups; senior PSNI officers, senior PSNI civilian staff, staff employed directly by the Board and staff seconded to the Board from the Department of Justice. All 4 groups being employed under separate terms and conditions.
The Board decided that the most effective and economical way to deal with this complexity was to appoint a specialist HR partner to support it when strategic or more serious issues arise. A competitive tender process was launched and we were duly appointed.
Specialist support in 3 key areas
We aligned the respective HR frameworks, including policies and procedures, which supported each of the employment relationships. We determined early on that given the complexity of the internal employment structure, it would be important for the Board’s senior management to have a clear roadmap to follow. So that no matter what issue they were dealing with, no matter what the employment status of the individual involved, it would be clear which policy applied and how to proceed.
We supported a strategic restructuring to drive efficiencies in the Board’s functional areas. One of the Board’s 7 key strategic priorities for the plan period 2017 – 2020 is “maintaining a focus on the effectiveness, efficiency and continuous improvement of the PSNI and the Board in the face of continuing budgetary challenge”. One of the ways in which the Board is directly addressing this priority is to focus resource on its core functions of monitoring the performance of the PSNI and holding it to account.
As with any organisation of a certain size, employee relations issues arise from time to time within the PSNI and the Board. We have supported the Board and senior management team in successfully resolving a number of issues of a confidential nature. Due to the sensitivity and the potential disruption of these issues it is essential that they’re dealt with discreetly and with a sense of urgency. We have consistently supplied experienced consultants at short notice, who have brought issues on occasion involving senior individuals to a successful conclusion.
The story so far .........
In reviewing its policies, the Board has benefitted from an independent and detached overview of its respective responsibilities for the four distinct groups it manages. That has allowed us to bring clarity to the policy framework making managers more confident to make decisions and successfully resolve issues.
One of the key anticipated benefits set out by the Board in its tender specification was “to mitigate the potential for employment related litigation that may expose the Board to significant financial, legal and reputational risk”. There is always some degree of risk inherent in a restructuring process. By leveraging our knowledge of employment law and the correct implementation of its own complex policy framework, the Board has successfully mitigated the risks in the restructuring it has undertaken.
The Board has gained comfort and re-assurance that in dealing with sensitive employee relations issues, our consultants don’t just have the experience to ensure that issues are handled properly in accordance with policy and procedure, but that they have the years of experience and the gravitas to manage through a process on occasion involving senior individuals who're accustomed to being in senior leadership positions.
This contract is ongoing and the Board continues to have the reassurance that whatever arises it has an HR partner on hand with the knowledge and expertise to support it.
“ The Board is the oversight body for the PSNI, an organisation with over 9,500 staff and a budget of £835 million. Access to limited internal resources sometimes requires the Board to seek specialist, external expertise. In their work with us on people related issues, the consultants from Headstogether have always impressed us with their ability to strike exactly the right balance between professionalism, and understanding and respect for individuals. ”