External Review of Alcohol Focus Scotland

The review was part of a rolling programme of reviews of voluntary sector agencies that receive more than £100k / year in grant funding from the Scottish Government. The main aim was to assess whether the Scottish Government is receiving value for money in relation to the grant it provides to AFS.

5 Human resources

5.1 AFS has a stable staff group who have shown their commitment to the organisation through some significant changes since 2010 and in light of their acceptance of the stringent measures resulting from financial pressures. Staff supported the strategic vision for the organisation and understood their role in contributing to its key objectives. An overhaul of staff policies and procedures in 2010 resulted in a policy set which is fit for purpose. However AFS may benefit from comparing their policy set with that of other similar organisations to identify areas for further development. There is also a need for workforce and training and development plans.

Vision and leadership

5.2 As stated earlier in the report, AFS employs 20 staff, many of whom have been with the organisation for several years - in some cases more than 10 years. Staff indicated that they were enthusiastic about the changes that have taken place in the organisation's strategic direction, and there appeared to be general satisfaction with how internal restructuring had been managed.

5.3 When the Executive Committee came to the conclusion earlier this year that cuts to staffing costs were necessary, it is noteworthy that the Chair of the Executive Committee met with individual senior managers and also personally addressed the staff meeting to discuss the proposal to reduce staff hours and salaries by 20%. It is also to the credit of the Executive Committee and senior managers that they have built flexibility into the arrangement so as to reinstate lost hours and salary as and when income has increased.

5.4 As stated earlier in this report, AFS's staffing has now been restructured to correspond with its strategic direction. A senior manager, with one or more "officers" and administrative support staff are associated with four out of the five priority areas - (i) Affordability and availability, (ii) Public health and licensing, (iii) Third party damage (also referred to as "Harm to others") and (iv) Supporting frontline services. At present there are no dedicated staff for the fifth priority: Protecting young people from alcohol marketing. This is a new area of work for AFS, and the expectation is that work will commence on it as funding becomes available.

5.5 According to minutes of Senior Management meetings, the process of realigning staffing with strategic direction involved an identification of existing staff qualifications and competencies, the drafting of new job descriptions, and discussions with staff to match individuals to the posts needed. This process identified a need for additional resources / skills specifically in relation to policy and research and the "Harm to others" work programme. It also identified a need for additional, high-level expertise in the area of HR and Finance on the Executive Committee. At present the Head of Finance and HR is responsible for both these areas, but there would be benefit from separating these functions.

5.6 There was evidence that staff have also been appropriately and productively involved in the wider process of strategic planning. Managers commissioned and participated in workshops at the beginning of 2011 which aimed to familiarise staff with logic modeling and to involve them in discussions about work programme development and agreeing outcomes for specific areas of work. Staff at all levels contributed to the development of logic models for their own areas of work.

Governance and accountability

5.7 AFS conducted a major review of staff policies and procedures in 2010, seeking legal advice on the policy additions or amendments necessary. Managers had used the review as an opportunity to improve policies, and staff reported that they were included in the review. New policies were introduced, such as the adoption policy (to sit alongside existing maternity and paternity policies). In addition, at the time of this review, discussion was taking place about whether a policy was needed on staff participation in social networking sites. As a result of the review, managers and staff were satisfied that AFS has an improved set of staff policies.

5.8 However, the resultant list of policies and their content is adequate rather than comprehensive, and AFS may wish to consider whether the organisation has a need for policies on harassment, probation and whistle blowing, for example. In addition, the disciplinary and grievance policies covered the necessary ground, but there was nothing to indicate an AFS stamp or any wider consideration other than the legal essentials. Good examples of disciplinary and grievance procedures are those which are included in a framework which sets out the organisational ethos and commitment to effective staff relations and support. A framework of this kind can be grown incrementally to encompass individual and collective rights; performance management; workforce development; health and safety; and internal communications and engagement.

5.9 The existing policies provide a good basic foundation upon which AFS can build, but it is important that consideration is given to the underpinning organisational ethos, which indicated that staff are highly valued within the organisation. It is suggested that AFS may find it useful to benchmark their policy set with other national voluntary organisations.

5.10 There did not appear to be a workforce plan or training and development programme. At the same time, there was some evidence of staff at officer level spending considerable time on tasks below their level of seniority and competency because of insufficient administrative support. Workforce planning should be an area for development within the organisation in the near future, and should be linked the organisation's strategic objectives.

5.11 A training and development programme should be based on a training needs analysis, and also linked to organisational objectives. There was evidence of long-serving staff progressing through the organisation, which perhaps partly explains how AFS has been successful in retaining staff over time. However, there was also a suggestion that some might find it useful if there were more movement of staff between different areas - to facilitate their learning and increased competency across the range of work programmes.

5.12 There was evidence that equality and diversity data are being systematically gathered as part of staff recruitment procedures, but it was reported that this data is not currently being analysed or put to any useful purpose. In relation to this, it was notable that the senior management team were all white females, and until recently, AFS's Executive Committee were all white males. There is now one female member of the Executive Committee. In addition, the organisation's paid financial adviser (a former Committee member), who attends Executive Committee meetings ex-officio and chairs the Finance and Operations committee, is also female. Ideally, organisations should strive to demonstrate that their staffing reflects the racial and ethnic mix of the broader population. This is not always possible in a small organisation such as AFS. However, the organisation may want to give some consideration about whether they may be inadvertently discriminating against certain equalities groups in their recruitment procedures.

Performance management

5.13 Non-management staff reported that they attend regular review meetings with their line managers (every 6-8 weeks), at which their performance in the previous period is discussed and a forward plan is agreed for the next 6-8 weeks. Staff each have their own workplan, with timescales attached. In addition, a recent introduction (in 2011) to the annual appraisal process involves each member of staff agreeing three specific objectives with their line manager, and being assessed against those objectives at the end of the year. Staff reported feeling comfortable and positive about this change.

5.14 The Director of Operations has line management responsibility for all senior managers apart from the Chief Executive, and the same procedures are followed. The Director of Operations is line-managed by the Chief Executive.

5.15 Senior management meetings are held every three weeks. In 2011, these meetings were split into "Operational management meetings" and "Strategic management meetings", which alternate from one meeting to the next. Minutes of senior management meetings contain an appendix setting out the actions agreed. These are not time bound, however, and there were some examples from minutes in 2010, where actions appeared not to be carried out, and no explanation given or expected when this occurred. This included some actions such as capturing and reporting on staff qualifications, development of a new performance management framework and giving feedback to budget holders. In one case, an action assigned to a manager to compare AFS's current arrangements with other charitable organisations of similar size appeared not to have been completed. However, there were no examples from the minutes in 2011 where this type of slippage occurred, which suggests that improvements have been made in this area.

5.16 Actions arising from meetings at this level should be time bound. If there is slippage in agreed timescales, it is suggested that the reasons for this should be recorded in the minutes so that the organisation can begin to accumulate evidence about which areas are under pressure.


Email: Iain MacAllister

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