Belfast Telegraph

Changing with the times

As we come to terms with more spending cuts, Business Month finds out how one public-sector business has tailored its offering for the commercial world

Arriving in Maryfield, there’s a building hidden behind the foliage of the Holywood trees where the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust is located.

For more than a decade the Trust has been providing specialist support and assistance to retired and retiring police officers in various areas, from career guidance, personal development and training courses to physiotherapy and psychological therapies.

The chief executive, Eddie Gaw, an accountant by profession, has spent most of his working life within the public sector, and has been responsible for the operational effectiveness of the Trust for just over two years.

The Trust is staffed by some 60 people, the majority of whom are professionals including; psychologists, physiotherapists, personal development coaches and training officers.

These are people who have plenty of qualifications and years of experience in their respective trades.

More than two years ago Eddie saw the need for change, he knew that the day might come when the Trust would be asked to do less, as the flow of police officers leaving the police force reduced substantially and funding provided by the Northern Ireland Office/Department of Justice might become an issue.

So what did they do? The Trust set up a commercial entity, Futures (NI), which allowed them to outsource their expertise to other public or private-sector organisations.

By doing this, funding is supplemented.

To date they’ve been successfully working with the Youth Justice Agency, the Prison Service Trust and the Commission for Victims and Survivors, among others.

This is an organisation that had foresight; it maybe did not see what was going to happen to the public sector per se, but what it did foresee was change and given that this is their core business, they had a ready made toolkit to use for themselves and Futures (NI) was born.

Futures (NI) now preaches to those that listen in the public sector. Eddie believes that as a whole, this sector needs to look long and hard at itself.

Cuts are coming, severe financial cuts, but he knows there are many ways to make savings and cost efficiencies and that strong leadership is required.

One thing that Futures (NI) advocates is the management of absence.

A recent CBI report stated that an improved rehabilitation and workplace health policy is integral to driving down absences, thus ensuring that absence, where it occurs, is justified. A figure of £45m was quoted as the saving that could be achieved if the public sector reduced its level of sickness leave to that of the private sector.

Eddie takes that one stage further and states that along with effective people management policies there is a need for well-defined job roles, challenging but realistic targets and training to assist them in achieving these targets. He also believes it is important that employers or managers think

about early intervention. It is one of the best tools to prevent long-term absence. He recommends training interventions such as personal resilience, stress management, conflict management, managing difficult or distressed people and tai chi as valuable resources, which support wellbeing.

There is arguably a duty of care obligation for some employers to provide such interventions to protect the wellbeing of personnel who function in consistently challenging environments, for example, frontline services such as the National Health Service or even Social Security personnel. And where absences do occur then short-term evidence-based clinical interventions could substantially save on sick pay.

Eddie believes that the public sector can make many cost efficiencies and savings. He has already joined forces with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to run a course entitled, Achieving Greater Efficiency by Managing Absence, later this month – now that’s leadership.

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