Nick Chatten, Philip Kitchener and Marcus Hill explain in detail some of the issue they faced when Colchester brought its facilities services back in-house

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It is seven months since Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust brought all of its estates and facilities services back in-house

In so doing the trust could be seen as swimming against the tide, ignoring the conventional wisdom that acute providers have enough to be getting on with without trying to manage what, for many organisations, are seen as non-core activities. 

Why then did the board take this decision, how did it go about managing the change and what lessons has the trust learnt from the experience that might be applicable to others who are facing decisions in the next few months about their soft and hard FM services?

TUPE presented its share of issues. Under this legislation the final “TUPE list” did not have to be available until two weeks before the transfer. This meant that the contractor, who managed other services locally, was under no obligation to inform the trust exactly which staff (including managers) would transfer.

This was a severe restriction on how far we could engage with individuals who we thought would be coming across but who might yet be whisked off to another contract. This uncertainty meant we were unable to finalise the operational management structure until the very last few days when a final TUPE list was verified.

New payroll

Another dimension of the TUPE transfer was setting up a new payroll for 500 staff with our payroll services contractor, where a mixture of new pay arrangements needed to be in place. This included finding a way of transferring staff, most of who were paid fortnightly, to a monthly payroll. In the end we agreed a salary advance and recovery system to help individuals manage this aspect of the transition.

The practical HR issues were significant. Issuing contracts and uniforms and checking the personal details and identities of 500 individuals in a couple of weeks following the issue of the TUPE list was no mean feat.

IT systems and their transfer to the trust presented specific challenges. The contractor held 14 years of details about the maintenance of the trust’s estate and these records needed to be transferred safely. Furthermore the trust needed to install a new helpdesk system to replace an obsolete one that the supplier would not be able to transfer or support. 

The contribution of subject specialists to unravel the intricacies of the HR, IT and procurement arrangements of the contractor, and to translate these into viable working arrangements for the trust, was significant and was a major contributor to the success of the transfer.

Cultural issues

Change of this magnitude presented an opportunity for the trust to try to shape the organisational culture it wanted for the new in-house service. At the same time as considering this change the board was developing its At Our Best initiative. At Our Best has been developed to highlight the values and behaviours that the Board wants to see cascaded throughout the organisation.

For the new estates and facilities team a complementary set of nine characteristics that help define our in-house service was identified. These were:

  • Devolved management responsibility and accountability
  • Customer-focused
  • Responsive to clinical priorities
  • Staff deployment to meet patient needs – 24/7
  • On-the-floor, not behind-the-desk, management
  • Optimise the use of technology to increase management time in face-to-face contact
  • Staff engagement
  • Innovative and efficient
  • We are one team

In time, individual and group objectives and service performance measures will be developed to support these characteristics.

Nick Chatten is special projects director at Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust. Philip Kitchener is the trust’s associate director for estates and facilities and now manages the new in house services. Marcus Hill of Comet Consulting, acted as the project manager