Collaboration could involve more complex arrangements around the delivery of front-line services, or could simply include the sharing of back office functions, staff and/or premises. But the Bill also allows for greater involvement of Police and Crime Commissioners in the running of fire services.  The models cover a wide spectrum from a new ‘single employer’ model (where the PCC becomes the sole employer of police and fire staff under a single Chief Officer; to a ‘governance model’ where the PCC becomes the governing authority for fire, but police and fire remain separately entitled; to a looser involvement of the PCC in the running of the Fire Authority.  

The challenges posed by closer collaboration will be demanding – for any initiative to be effective, it will need to overcome political, geographical and cultural factors.  If these can be overcome, the legal challenges should not be an obstacle to achieving the required outcome provided they are addressed up front and co-operatively.  

This briefing concentrates on the workforce challenges.   Failing to meet those challenges can be costly not just in terms of financial penalties but also in wasted management time, damaged relationships with staff and trade unions and public perception issues.  Early consideration of the key issues helps manage risk:

  • Establish the exact nature of the proposed  change
    Changes can be small or large:  there could be a workplace move, or a merger of the administration support teams of two police forces, or the creation of a single employer for police and fire staff.
  • Identify which employees are affected by the change;  
    This could include employees beyond those obviously involved.  For example, moving a team away from HQ impacts on that team, but could also mean a lesser need for HQ canteen staff who are then also affected by the change.
  • Understand how those employees are affected.
    There could be different working hours/days, or a new employer or a change in pension arrangements and benefits

Once these key points are addressed, employers are able to understand and meet the relevant legal obligations. So, where a PCC takes on the responsibilities of a fire and rescue authority and creates a single employer for police and fire staff, thus facilitating the sharing of back office functions and streamlining of management, there are substantial workforce implications possibly giving rise to a number of legal obligations:

  • the merger could be a transfer under TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006), or the Secretary of State may specify alternative arrangements for staffing under a Transfer Order.   In either case, the employment contracts of the transferring staff would move across to the ‘new’ employer, along with all historic employment liabilities.  The ‘new’ employer will want to understand those liabilities (and if there’s any scope for indemnities).  Consultation with staff will be essential and TUPE also requires employers to inform and consult with recognised trade unions ‘in good time’ before the transfer, and to share certain specified information.  If the ‘new’ employer is planning ‘measures’ (workplace move, transfer related redundancies etc) it must inform the ‘old’ employer. 
  • post-transfer there’s likely to be a redundancy situation arising out of management streamlining.  This creates obligations to consult collectively with recognised trade unions as well as consulting with each affected individual.  Internal policies can also create obligations.

Penalties for failing to properly consult on a collective basis can be large (TUPE is up to 13 weeks’ actual pay).  Additionally, individual consultation failures can give rise to unfair dismissal claims (maximum penalty exceeds £93,000) and/or discrimination claims (uncapped compensation).

Thoughtful planning and early consideration of workforce issues helps to ensure that legal obligations are met and associated risks are minimised, but this is only part of the story.  Successful reorganisations and mergers depend on engaging effectively with staff before, during and after the process, as well as recognising that cultural issues will inevitably arise.  Any change management plan needs to take account of these matters to help support a smooth change process.  Our principle message around workforce issues is – don’t ignore these important matters or leave them to the last.  They can in fact be the key to a successful collaboration. 

For further information as to how we can support you please contact Claire Reynolds, Alison Richards or Alessandra Gettins.