Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR D CLEMPSON
100. Is the reduction reasonable in terms of
the reduction in the workload?
(Mr Foster) The workload has changed but I would not
say there has been a reduction per se. A lot of these changes
began before we became a Highways Agency so a lot of what we are
talking about is pre-1994 when we were created an Executive Agency.
Since that time there has been any number of different initiatives.
There has been the New Deal for Trunk Roads, there has now been
the Ten-Year Plan. There has always been a constant change in
emphasis where new skills have been required and the workload
101. On the issue of congestion on motorways,
does the same thing apply, that it goes out to private operators?
(Mr Foster) Traditionally the management of the network
was not undertaken by the Highways Agency. We were actually given
a new role following the Transport White Paper in 1998 to develop
our role as a network operator. We have actually been trying to
bring in those skills in terms of how we manage the network.
102. On the question of reducing congestion,
is this done by private contractors or is it done in-house?
(Mr Foster) The ideas and initiatives are developed
in-house and then the work is put out.
103. You have the skilled labour to do that?
(Mr Foster) Yes, we believe so.
104. May I ask some questions along the same
lines about the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, about staffing
levels in that Agency?
(Mr Clempson) Staffing levels within the Maritime
and Coastguard Agency are inadequate at the moment but we are,
under consultation with the main directors in the headquarters,
looking at a staffing review. We have actually managed to get
them to look at the position of minimum staffing levels and recommended
staffing levels depending on the work loading. The minimum level
would be one which would not be fallen below. However, since the
last Transport Select Committee inquiry, we have certainly had
a better interchange with the senior directors within the Agency
on the trade union side but it is still failing quite badly at
the district and regional levels.
(Mr Clempson) The fact is that at a recent meeting
at the regional headquarters in Aberdeenand I cite Aberdeen
because I do have the proof of it herethe comment was made
by one of the regional managers that this staffing exercise was
purely to keep the trade unions happy. They would decide the staffing
levels within the region. That was actually followed through at
another district meeting. I have a letter here from a person who
wishes to remain anonymous because he does not want his name getting
out and you still have the problems with the management regime.
Headquarters themselves have taken a report into the death of
John Harrison into account and they are now looking at giving
everybody qualified management training recognised by outside
bodies. We welcome that as a trade union and think it is a long
overdue step. However, we are still finding that there are problems
with getting information upwards and downwards. There is a block,
mainly at the regional levels, where the regional management teams
turn round and say they will decide what is going to be done and
it is not going to be down to the members or to the employees
themselves who basically have a better knowledge of operational
requirements. The last thing we did was discuss with John Astbury,
the Chief Coastguard, and he agreed, that everybody in the Maritime
and Coastguard Agency would be consulted on staffing levels, recommended
optimum staffing levels for all Coastguard stations around the
country. However, as far as we have been able to find out, there
has only been consultation which we consider to be consultation
at Solent, at Stornaway and Clyde. In all the rest of the districts
there was no consultation whatsoever.
106. Three out of how many stations?
(Mr Clempson) Seventeen stations.
107. The staffing shortfalls you are talking
about are not vacant posts for which they cannot recruit, it is
very much a management decision of what the staffing level is
to be that you think is short of the actual optimum requirement.
(Mr Clempson) Yes. The fact is that in 1996 or 1994
the watch levels were agreed under Focus for Change and I have
a copy of it here. On the night of Tuesday/Wednesday 2/3 January
2000 Aberdeen had one watch manager, one watch officer and three
Coastguard Watch Assistants (CWA) all under training. Shetland
had one watch manager, one watch officer, one CWA and one CWA
under training. Forth had one watch manager and one watch officer.
Tyne Tees had one watch officer, one CWA. Humber had one watch
manager, one watch officer, one CWA and one CWA under training.
Yarmouth, which is a main rescue coordinating centre, had one
watch officer and two CWAs. Thames had two watch officers and
two CWAs. Bear in mind that since that Focus for Change took place,
additional workloading has been passed on to the Coastguard Agency:
the maritime information and safety broadcasts; with the demise
of BT coastal radio stations the Coastguard stations are the only
ones who listen to 2182; there is also the problem with channel
108. Could you explain the significance of 2182?
(Mr Clempson) It is an international maritime distress
frequency. If a ship, a yacht or whatever gets into distress outside,
say, 200 miles of the UK coast, he can call on what they call
a medium frequency but it is long range one, for assistance from
the Coastguard. The Coastguards within the UK are the only organisation
which monitors 2182 fulltime. If you have staff shortages, what
it means is you have to divide your staffing levels and decide
which is going to be the most important. Are you going to accept
a VHF distress call, or an MF distress call, or are you going
to listen to a 999 call or are you going to give weather forecasts.
You have to make a choice of whether you do the work or whether
you just put something on the back burner and hope nothing goes
wrong. Basically that is what is happening. I have 20 staff shortage
reports here covering the middle of December.
109. Could you leave that with us? We should
have some pity on those taking a record and not expect them to
take it entirely in one go.
(Mr Clempson) Yes.
110. If those are shortages beneath the optimal
figure, then you are suggesting that there is a very clear safety
(Mr Clempson) Yes, there is. The Agency turn round
and say they will do a risk assessment. A risk assessment is a
legal document. At the moment we are in correspondence with the
Agency about the requirement to have training for risk assessments.
A risk assessment is to look at a certain action or a certain
course of events and ask how you can prevent something going wrong,
the best reasonable way. It has to be suitable and sufficient.
What is happening is that people are deciding that they cannot
get anybody else in so the three will have to manage, or the two
will have to manage. When you take into account that staff require
some meal breaks, they have comfort breaks, need to go to the
toilet, need to make a cup of coffee or refreshments, anything
like thatand it has been suggested by one of our regional
managers that meal breaks for staff be limited to ten minutes
at a timethat really is a bit of a nonsense.
111. In a twelve-hour day.
(Mr Clempson) In a twelve-hour watch; so they can
take ten minute breaks. They know that the staff are so short
and overtime is available but people are so fed up with working
the overtime that it is more and more difficult to get people
to do it. What we really need are proper staffing levels, coming
down from headquarters, the trade unions, saying this is what
we need to do. At the moment we are in the process of dealing
with those sorts of negotiations. The fact is that whatever we
try to do at headquarters and trade union side is being stymied
at regional levels.
112. What about sickness levels? How do they
compare with others?
(Mr Clempson) I can actually give you the sickness
levels for the staff. Total sick absence was 11,161; average sick
absence level per person is 8.33. That is certainly the highest
as far as I am aware.
113. What does 8.33 mean?
(Mr Clempson) The average sick absence level per employee
is 8.33 days per year, which according to the Head of Personnel
is certainly the highest within the DETR group.
114. That is the highest within all the agencies.
(Mr Clempson) The highest of all the agencies. I do
not know the reason for the sick absences. From my own personal
experience a lot of it is work related due to stress or due to
the nature of the job because it does give you a lot of pressure
at times. We have actually managed to persuade the Agency to go
ahead with a stress survey.
115. You have identified these staff shortages,
you have tried to consult on them within the Agency without success.
(Mr Clempson) Yes.
116. Have you attempted going over the Agency's
head to Ministers or to the DETR itself?
(Mr Clempson) No, the fact being that we are still
in negotiations with our main headquarters, with the Chief Coastguard
and Chief Executive and we are hopeful that we shall get something.
117. What I am trying to get at is that we do
not know whether Ministers and the Department are aware of these
problems and the Agency is fobbing them off and telling them it
is all right, or whether
(Mr Clempson) We certainly have not taken the matter
above the Agency at the moment. A note from a meeting with ourselves
on 14 November is that they have agreed to the third draft of
the proposed watchkeeping levels, which would include a minimum
recommended level, which was the trade union side recommendation.
John Astbury was concerned to hear the claims that some staff
had not been asked to contribute to development of the draft and
levels proposed which was an essential part of the consultation
process. He would raise this issue with the regional management
and ensure that the message was reiterated and that local managers
must communicate and consult with their staff on such issues.
After the draft we went out again and actually put a memo out
to all members saying that there would be consultations, there
would be meetings, it was important they attend because the problem
of staffing levels was so important that it needed to be organised
once and for all. However, only three stations that I am aware
of actually carried out full consultation as had been agreed with
the Chief Coastguard. The rest were told what they were going
118. You raised a point earlier about breaks.
That breaches employment law.
(Mr Clempson) Yes, it does and we actually told the
regional inspector concerned of the fact that if he tried it we
would certainly take him to an industrial tribunal.
119. So he has not done it then.
(Mr Clempson) No, but they do not like to back down.