Meeting documents

SCC Human Resources Committee
Tuesday, 13th December, 2022 2.00 pm

  • Meeting of Human Resources Committee, Tuesday 13th December 2022 2.00 pm (Item 5.)

-       To consider the presentation on the day


The Chair welcomed the Director of Customers, Digital and Workforce – Chris Squire to the meeting and thanked him for his attendance at this busy time. The Officer introduced HR Policy and Projects Service Manager – Sarah Welland who highlighted the following:

-       Summary table (appendix 1) with two categories of policies where those marked yellow shows no substantive changed from the existing policies to the proposed Somerset Council policy from April 2023; and those marked blue where there is a significant change to the existing policies or a contentious issue for consideration.

-       Four ‘yellow’ policies were presented for discussion.

-       Parental Bereavement Leave Policy – No district currently has a formal specific policy so the proposed policy is a continuation of the SCC policy. Questions were invited. A Councillor asked if this policy would be in addition to the maternity policy in the case of still birth. The Officer confirmed that was correct (see first paragraph) and also the Compassionate Leave Policy. It would also apply to late abortion. A Councillor asked for consideration in the policy of the increasing role that grandparents play in many children’s lives and who may offer a large supporting role in such circumstances. The Officer agreed to consider the implications of grandparental leave and stated that compassionate leave would also apply. It was stated that such policies directly reflect the culture of an organisation and should direct the behaviour of managers. The Committee noted the new policy.

-       Fostering Policy – No district has a formal policy so the working group has taken the existing SCC policy and worked with the Fostering Team to formulate the proposed policy offering 8 days paid leave (Sedgemoor previously offered 5 days, other districts did not specify). Questions were invited. A Councillor asked whether the policy offers 8 days per year in total and questioned how this would impact a short-term foster career with multiple placements over the course of a year. The Officer said that the policy currently reads as 8 days per child per year but that the impact of this would be considered and period of leave clarified to the committee at a future meeting. It was suggested that reference could also be made to the varying multiple fostering arrangements, including short-term arrangements such as respite care. Cllr Butt Philip declared an interest that he was being considered as a Special Guardian. The Chair stressed the importance of this policy, particularly with regard to the Council Tax 50% reduction for Foster Carers. A Councillor asked for an indication of how often foster parent leave had been granted and the level of leave required from a Foster Carers perspective. The Officer explained that these discussions have taken place and that workplace data could be presented. A Councillor stated the need to offer adequate support to Foster Carers via uncomplicated guidelines. The Chair was in agreement with this suggestion and of managerial discretion. The Fostering Policy will be re-presented at a future meeting.

-       Disclosure Policy: The proposed policy is primarily based on the Code of Practice and refers managers and other staff who are using the DBS checking system to the guidance to ensure the most up to date guidance on disclosure. The Committee noted the policy.

-       Recruitment of Ex-offenders Policy: The proposed policy is very similar to the existing SCC policy with a reference to acting as an umbrella body. Where this is the case, and access to DBS checks is given to non-registered organisations, those organisations would be required to have a clear and positive statement about the recruitment of ex-offenders, and also cover the issue in contractual arrangements.  Questions were invited. A Councillor agreed that this policy represents a positive change and asked if recruiting managers, particularly when from districts with no pre-existing policy, would receive further data protection training to handle sensitive information. The Officer agreed to discuss the requirement with the Recruitment Team for recruitment of ex-offenders and also for disclosure. The Committee noted the policy.

-       One ‘blue’ policy was presented for discussion.

-       Flexible Working Request Policy: All existing districts and SCC were broadly in line with existing policies regarding employees right to request flexible working arrangements, a statutory entitlement, which require a minimum of 26 weeks service before a request can be made, with SCC having a day one right to request flexible working. It is likely that the statutory right will reduce to day one, and it is proposed that Somerset Council allow requests to be made from day one as a flexible employer in line with the current employment market. The substantive change to the policy is the removal of information regarding business-led request from an employer, with the policy retaining employees’ rights to request flexible working. Questions were invited. A Councillor asked for clarification of flexible working, hybrid working arrangements and contractual home-working, and whether reference should be made that this is an employees’ personal choice whether or not to request flexible working. The Officer referred to current work of the Dynamic Ways of Working Strategy which relates to an employee working where work is best completed, not necessarily where the employee choses. Benefits of working from home or from different locations can be great for employees and employers, particularly in terms of morale and motivation, which has been particularly important for social workers. Dynamic Ways of Working enables discussion where employees are reluctant to be office-based to determine the best location for work to be completed. Examples were given of work best completed at home such as report writing and online meetings, and tasks best completed in the office such as staff supervision. Evidence shows that the quality of supervision has declined in the pandemic, where emotional connections and interventions were not taking place. The policy offers a consistent approach across the five to enable sensible discussions to allow the continuation of some of the huge benefits of home working to without this becoming a fundamental right. Pilots are taking place in a number of areas which currently involve teams agreeing effective ways of working and then developing a charter to document this. With the re-opening of B Block, there is now a genuine choice of work location. A Dynamic Ways of Working Policy will be formulated in the coming months. The Officer stated that dynamic working can allow greater accessibility and equal opportunities for employees which is clearly documented by other organisations.  A Councillor asked for data on the present level of flexible working within SCC, post-pandemic. The Officer agreed to provide data from HR Advisory in terms of number of flexible working requests and what proportion are supported. It is thought that the vast majority of employees are working flexibly. A Councillor asked for clarification on flexible working patterns. The Officer explained that this is how an employee choses to complete their contracted hours, for example, a full time employee may choose to work three long days and two shorter days, or extend their work hours over nine days a fortnight. In general, working pattern is a contractual arrangement and dynamic working is how you approach those hours such as ocassional evening working hours, offset by a later morning start as a short term response. The Officer stated that management of recording work hours can be administratively heavy. A Councillor asked how this is monitored to ensure employees are not working additional hours over contract, and if devices can track work hours. The Officer stated that this is an area that managers are expected to manage as part of regular line management supervision, and that staff are not centrally monitored routinely but that this can be done if required. An awareness of excessive working hours is important to safeguard employees. It was noted that a large amount of unpaid additional hours are currently being worked as part of LGR. A Councillor re-iterated that there must be high regard for employee wellbeing at all times. Reference was made to employee email signatures where it is stated that emails may be sent out of usual working hours but that a reply is not expected until the recipients usual work pattern. A Councillor expressed concern about informal dynamic ways of working arrangements and questioned the development of a policy as opposed to a culture of permissive dynamic working in a tribunal situation. The Officer explained that the Dynamic Working Strategy also considers travel and climate change for example. The Officer confirmed that the policy relates to the statutory right to make a request for flexible working. There was support for the policy and the right to request flexible working from day one as a general improvement in the culture of the new council. There was however, concern about the LGR pressures that some staff are finding themselves under. It was agreed that the culture of the new council should be set from day one and should draw good practice from all five councils. Work on culture, including the workshops has the full support of the Chief Executive which will continue after Vesting Day. The Officer explained that some HR functions will migrate to Microsoft Dynamics (from SAP). The Committee unanimously approved the policy. The Chair thanked the Officers for attending and for their committed work. 

The members of the HR Committee formally approved the new employment policies which meet the previously agreed criteria for use in the new Somerset Council with effect from 1 April 2023.


The members of the HR Committee noted for information purposes only, the new policies listed, fall into the category of being a change to one or more of the District Council’s existing policies, but no significant change to the existing SCC policy.