Employer Profile: Wigan Council

    WIGAN COUNCIL

    Number of staff: 2,566 in social services
    departments.

    Typical salaries: From
    £19,092-£26,625 for a social worker,
    £29,100-£31,434 for a social work team leader and
    £33,009-£35,358 for a group manager.

    Number of clients: About 20,000

    While some organisations over-hype their willingness to let
    staff work flexibly, many public sector organisations live up to
    their word. Wigan Council is one such place. Since it introduced a
    flexible working policy a couple of years ago, numerous staff have
    taken it up. According to Anne Westhead, a human resources manager
    with the council’s social services department, 40 applications were
    approved over a six-month period this year. “The main types of
    flexible working are condensed hours or days worked,” she says.
    “Some are temporary arrangements to deal with a situation that has
    arisen; others are more permanent.”

    The social services department produced a booklet outlining its
    flexible working practices, which is often used at recruitment
    fairs. Westhead says it is an essential recruitment and retention
    tool and increases staff morale.

    Another recruitment tool used by the council is one-off golden
    hello payments of £1,000 for some roles, such as qualified
    social workers in children and families. Those employees are also
    given incentives to stay with the council in the form of a yearly
    retention bonus of £1,000.

    Steve Peddie, assistant director of development and performance
    in social services, says management performance and accessibility
    are crucial. When the department was awarded its two-star rating in
    2003, the workforce said that senior managers were more visible
    than they had been three years previously. Partnership working had
    also improved, with many social services staff saying they found
    collaborating with the health sector less threatening than
    before.

    The department is part of the government’s Innovations Forum of
    Excellent Councils regarding its service for older people, which
    Peddie says is another indicator that the council is a good place
    to work.

    Front-line worker: Anne Carpen,
    senior occupational therapist

    Anne Carpen moved into the borough in 1999 specifically because
    the authority offered flexible working. Joining on a 37-hour week,
    she later dropped down to 29 hours a week, starting work at 8.30am
    and leaving at 3pm with a half hour lunch break. She has also been
    able to do term-time working over the past three years.

    Without this flexibility, she would not be able to continue
    working for the council and thinks her career options would be
    limited. “I have a child with a learning disability so I have to be
    flexible around his needs,” she says.

    As it is, she has a fulfilling role that has allowed her to
    develop her skills. “I have gained a lot myself in terms of
    paediatric experience, liaising with social workers and health
    staff.”

    Carpen also spends time talking to architects, engineers and
    surveyors about how service users’ homes can be adapted to suit
    them. “You need very good communication skills, written and verbal,
    in this job because we have to co-ordinate the whole process to
    enable people to remain in their own homes.”

    As Carpen’s 17 co-workers in the OT department are all on
    flexible working patterns as well, the team spirit is excellent,
    she says. “I certainly don’t think the grass is any greener
    anywhere else.”

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