Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 600 - 619)

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001

MR M STOREY

  600. I know how they do it. That was not what I asked you. Are you quite convinced that the fact that they often do not have a full complement does not affect safety? Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Storey) I am saying that the level of staff in the coastguard stations at any time do not compromise safety in any way whatsoever.

Mr Bennett

  601. What is the turnover in staff?
  (Mr Storey) The turnover in staff is less than five per cent.

  602. How does it compare? Which is the worst station for turnover and which is the best?
  (Mr Storey) I could not tell you that off the top of my head. If you would like the information we shall pass it on to you.

  603. Is there a big variation?
  (Mr Storey) No, there is not a big variation. It is fairly even across the operation.

Chairman

  604. What about sick leave?
  (Mr Storey) Sick leave is always a concern; it is of concern to me and we are looking at ways to try to look at this. We are looking at returns, when people come back talking to them about their sickness problems and difficulties and we are monitoring on a regular basis.

  605. Is your sick leave higher or lower than other agencies?
  (Mr Storey) I believe we are about the mid point of the agencies. We are certainly not the highest and we are certainly not the lowest.

  606. Is there any evidence of any stress on your staff?
  (Mr Storey) There is always evidence of stress on an individual basis. I recently visited one of the coastguard stations a couple of months ago and on going in there I saw one particular individual who I believed was somewhat stressed. I talked to him and the next day we had him removed and relieved of his duties for a period to assess the situation.

  607. Is that the only case you have come across in the whole of the Agency, although you are so active in going to talk to everybody?
  (Mr Storey) That is the only incident which has been brought to my attention. Of course it is an issue which concerns me and as a result of that I have commissioned a stress survey across the whole of the Agency to look at all areas of the Agency.

  608. What progress have you made in the review of staffing levels?
  (Mr Storey) As far as the review of staffing levels is concerned, the current review which is going on is one looking at levels at the coastguard station. It has been going on for a number of months with the unions' involvement. There is another meeting in the next week or so to discuss this and we are looking at two levels. It was a recommendation that the unions raised to us, that is the minimum working levels and the recommended working levels, the minimum being the base line below which one should not go in extreme circumstances and the recommended levels covering the area taking the risk assessment into account, depending on the time of day, evening, whatever and where the work content is.

Dr Ladyman

  609. In your statement you said that the relationships with trade unions are improving. Did you read the evidence this Committee received a few weeks ago from the trade unions?
  (Mr Storey) Yes, I did.

  610. Would you agree with me that what they said did not sound much like improving relationships?
  (Mr Storey) I can only speak from the experience I have had since I took over the Agency, which is just under three years ago. The relationship has improved dramatically and at the last Whitley meeting, when we came to Any Other Business, I asked the union whether there was any other business. The comment from the representative of the union was that there was not and that the reason there was not was because we had a good working relationship. That was encouraging to me.

  611. What about the comment they made during that evidence they gave us that sometimes your instructions that managers are to be responsive and listen to the views of staff are not being implemented by middle management.
  (Mr Storey) Yes, a very good and valid point and a point which has been my concern for some time. That is why we are putting all our middle management through a management training scheme, because I do not believe they had the necessary training in the past to manage in the correct way. We are putting them all through this scheme at the present time and hopefully this will resolve that issue.

  612. What monitoring are you doing to see whether that works or not?
  (Mr Storey) As people go back out into the field they are admitting that they are learning and we are watching the situation to see whether that communication is improving. I have tried to create an open management style where everyone in the Agency has as much information about the Agency as I have. If it is restricted I tell them and I want it fed to the bottom of the organisation and likewise the lowest person in the organisation should be able to feed back to me what he wants and it should come back up to me. I am trying to encourage that throughout the organisation.

  613. Does he have to feed back to you through somebody else?
  (Mr Storey) Yes. We have just over 1,000 staff and of course if everyone had direct access every day to me, I might have difficulty trying to do my job. There is a system to go through, but what I have said openly is that if they go through that system and they are not getting satisfaction from that system, they have the right to come to me and a number of people have come to me over time.

  614. If I am a middle manager who is not listening to my staff and has no intention of implementing your modern management strategies, I am hardly likely to feed back to you that one of my members of staff is dissatisfied with what I am doing.
  (Mr Storey) Yes, in principle I would agree with you. What I have done is go round and talk to the staff to encourage them, if that is the case, to come to me if they have a problem; and a number of them have.

  615. What about the suggestion that your disciplinary procedures are not in line with human rights legislation?
  (Mr Storey) The message with regard to ACAS regulations is that our procedures were in accordance with ACAS regulations until last year when they were modified. Since that time we have tried to work within the spirit of the ACAS regulations. A new staff handbook is being prepared which is under the framework of the DETR and that will be produced by the spring of this year and the regulations in there will come within the current ACAS rules.

  616. May I just clarify that? You said you are trying to work within the spirit of the regulations. That would imply that the written rules at this moment do not comply with the ACAS regulations still.
  (Mr Storey) Yes, they do not comply with the current ACAS rules, that is correct.

  617. So somebody who is being disciplined today—and when one enters into a disciplinary process one usually finds that the only thing one can rely on is the written word of the rules rather than any spirit which might be implied—will be having to operate within rules which do not comply with ACAS regulations.
  (Mr Storey) If you look at it in black and white, of course the answer is yes. However, we have the staff dealing with them with the spirit of the ACAS rules until a new handbook is produced.

  618. What is the target date for that new handbook?
  (Mr Storey) It will be 1 April.

Chairman

  619. This year?
  (Mr Storey) Yes; this year.


 
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