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Preparation, preparation, preparation

Melton had a lot of help after the fire and in the recovery period from its business continuity supplier, Phoenix. Mike Osborne, managing director of the company’s business continuity unit, told PSE: “In the aftermath of the fire, it was clear that with so many people depending on council services, it was imperative we were able to get them up and operational as quickly as possible.

“We had previously agreed the level of resource with council officials, including work stations, networked phone lines and internet access, so when we received the call about the incident, we were ready to go.”

We asked Osborne whether all authorities are as prepared to deal with such a crisis as Melton was in 2008. He said: “In all honesty, the answer is no. The uncertainty around the economic climate means all organisations, regardless of the sector they operate in, are being forced to manage budgets more stringently and look at where cutbacks can

be made. Increasingly business continuity (BC) is being seen as one of those areas where it’s believed cutbacks can be enforced.

“This is not the case, and what makes it even more concerning is that firms are actually become more aware of the need for an effective BC plan and its importance, however, they simply don’t have the finances available to instigate one. It’s a vicious circle.

“Another trend we are seeing is in cases where a firm has a BC plan, they don’t have the necessary technology to support upgrades therefore leaning on us for more day-to-day support. Unfortunately it’s only in cases such as Melton Borough that the true benefits of an effective BC plan can be seen.”

Clearly all local authorities, even relatively small district-level councils like Melton, have a whole host of IT systems operating – restoring these after a disaster is a necessity. Osborne said: “There are always challenges when it comes to supporting an IT system, regardless of whether they are technical or

Melton’s case, there was an opportunity to start fresh with a new headquarters building tailored to suit the way the council wants to work in the future, with an emphasis on collaborative working with partners and flexible staff arrangements.

Above: The council’s new headquarters.

The council also had to arrange to get staff addresses and other contact details as all the paper HR records were lost in the fire.

Since it all happened, other authorities have been keen to see how Melton managed.

Aisbett said: “There was a team of us going round and giving talks and passing on tips. For instance, everyone has very effective evacuation procedures for 9am and after: how many have effective evacuation procedures for 7am, when staff are coming in, in these times of flexible working, where you may only have 10 or 15 staff in a large building and one caretaker in situ?”

The silver lining

The council’s senior staff are clear that even a disaster can have positive outcomes. In

Aisbett told us: “We based the concept on the children’s centre we were just about to open before the fire, the first children’s centre in

Aisbett said: “We worked with our insurers to make that money work for us, both in terms of what we needed to deliver our services during the period in which we rebuilt our

new offices, as well as moving our organisation forward because we had now become a more flexible organisation.”

logistical – the key is to ensure that all the variables have been accounted for, with thorough testing carried out.

“An example of this is that Melton Borough operates outside of the 9-5 Monday-to- Friday working shift pattern to include the weekends. As a result we had to implement a plan to ensure that we had resources to make the building operational in light of this working pattern. This was inducted into the BC plan and we put in processes to accommodate this including paying staff overtime to work outside their working hours.

“By providing customers like Melton with state-of-the-art centres equipped to the highest standards and open for business 24/7, we are able to ensure that in the event of disaster, their data and business livelihood is safe, secured and maintained, therefore restoring business confidence.”

Melton, where we had health staff, our own staff, and Leicestershire County Council staff working from one building serving the community of the children’s centre.

“We took the decision that the new office, wherever and however it was built, would be a collaborative venture.

“And we now have county council staff, probation staff, the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust [the community and mental health trust], police on a drop-in basis, and a voluntary and community sector working in the building.”

“We had all our business critical systems running on the next working day.”

The new two-storey offices, opened officially in May, are on a brownfield site near the town’s station. It provides better access for staff and citizens, and offered a regeneration opportunity for that part of the town. Multiple public sector bodies share space in the building, offering both cost savings and improved service quality.

Different working environments promote different ways of working, and the council has been monitoring the outcomes. A PhD student at De Montfort University has also been speaking to staff about how the new building has changed people’s working habits.

Aisbett said: “We do have certain

measurable indicators, for example on school exclusions and antisocial behaviour, which show we are having an impact on our community through this integrated and collaborative way of working.”

Lynn Aisbett


public sector executive Jul/Aug 12 | 37

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