Security review leaves confusion over role of porters

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Concerns have been raised over the direction taken by Lancaster’s Security Department with confusion breaking out over first aid training for portering staff.

Porters were asked to undergo voluntary emergency first aid training two years ago, but due to its voluntary nature some staff chose to opt out. Senior management have been criticised for what has been seen by staff as an attempt to force training on them after a suggestion was made that training was required as part of the job description.

“All of the college porters were told [two years ago] it would be preferred if they did it but it was voluntary,” one member of staff told SCAN. “One of the porters said he didn’t want to. It got as far as him being threatened with having a black mark put on his record because he wouldn’t undertake voluntary first aid training, so the unions got involved. [Then] earlier on this year [senior management] said that […] it had been agreed with the unions and HR that this was a requirement of the job, which is exactly the opposite of what had been agreed with the Unions and HR.”

Two meetings have taken place between Acting Head of Security Mark Salisbury, trade union representatives, Human Resources and the Safety Office, the first approximately eighteen months ago and the second on Wednesday November 10. Although an agreement was reached at the second meeting that training was necessary for the job, union representatives state that the agreement is unacceptable as it has not been accepted by all union members.

“[During Wednesday’s meeting] it was stated that at the meeting in February last year it had been agreed that first aid training should be a requirement for porters, and would be included in contracts for new starters,” one union representative said. “I was gobsmacked at this. Nobody had told the porters. We spoke to [the union branch chairman] after the meeting and he confirmed that an agreement as described had been made. As far as the porters are concerned this ‘agreement’ is invalid until it has been accepted by the union membership. I have had several comments along the lines of ‘I thought it was only nonmembers who didn’t get a vote on changes to working practices’ So senior management may think this ‘agreement’ is in place but the porters certainly do not.

“We concur that first aid training for all is a good thing,” he continued. “Voting against it is like voting against peace. It is the way the University has gone about it that has raised hackles.” The point was also raised by union representatives that if first aid training is a requirement of the job porters should be in a higher pay scale than they currently are.

In a statement to SCAN, Salisbury said: “I make no apology for my passion in attempting to enable and equip all ‘front-line’ staff with up to date knowledge and the skills to respond effectively to a first aid scenario. […] Two meetings have taken place with trade union representatives. The first centred on attendance. Also present were two members of the HR Department and the Safety Office. A decision was made that there is a requirement for all Security staff to attend first aid training unless there is a valid reason not to. A second meeting took place with union representatives on November 10. The outcome of this meeting was to re-affirm the previous decision, allay concerns about changes to the content of the training and affirm my obvious support for any member of staff who may be required to summon an ambulance by using 999.”

Staff are concerned that with the closure of the Nurse Unit they will come to be seen as a replacement service. A document outlining the justifications for closing the unit stated that “porters are now trained in emergency first aid”.

“It was almost a way of saying we can do without the Nurse Unit because we’ve always got these to fall back on, but […] having half a day’s emergency first response training isn’t the same as ten years’ nursing experience. We’re not equipped, we’ve not been trained properly – it’s absolutely a basic service that’s being offered,” said one staff member.

Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities, stressed that this was not the case. “There isn’t any direct linkage [between the training and the closing of the Nurse Unit] but we believe that those people that are on duty in those front line services should be competently trained to carry out first aid,” he said. “They’re not a replacement but they would respond as they have done in the past. I personally believe that porters should be trained and I think they should if called upon respond.”

Commenting on the future direction of the Security Department, Swindlehurst said: “My job is to bring together of a number of departments and to take the opportunity to look across all the departments. Is there a better way of doing things? Is there a better way that we can support each other as a team and also serve staff, students and visitors better than we do now?

“We’ve done the little things [in the Security Department] like the protective equipment, the van replacements, just because we felt they didn’t feel invested in,” he continued. “We’ve refurbished the security lodge, we’ve given the porters’ lodges a coat of paint, we’ve made sure that they’ve got emergency equipment in there, because we could see they need to be feeling part of the University’s team.”

“[Mr Swindlehurst and I] share the same vision for the future,” added Salisbury. “One of my concerns at the moment involves the safety consideration when my staff are faced with a student who maybe [sic] experiencing symptoms of ‘mental health illness’. To address this I have arranged trials involving the use of protective clothing. I am also in the process of arranging a programme of training designed around raising awareness of staff in this respect.”

The Security Department has been undergoing changes since the appointment of Salisbury as Acting Head in February 2009 following the retirement of previous Head, Tony Evans. A structural review of Security has been carried out by Salisbury and Mike Shepherd, Head of Infrastructure, with the intent of reassessing its activities and saving money. The Facilities Department, which incorporates Security, needs to make cuts of 5% to its payroll costs over the next year. A report of proposed changes to the Department has been passed to Swindlehurst.

Staff, however, have been left unsure of what exactly is going on. Rumours of significant changes to the way the Department runs have grown up and staff feel that there is little communication from senior management. “We used to have departmental meetings where everyone could come together to raise questions and get some idea of what new plans the University had. We’ve only had one in the last year or so. This means that no clarification is given to rumours circulating about things, “said another staff member.

“I am not at liberty to discuss the findings and recommendations of the recent Security Departmental Audit, the process is currently on going and no decisions have been reached,” said Salisbury. “What I will say is that the security and safety of students will not be compromised, neither will the level of service provided by Security staff. It is against this backdrop of uncertainty that rumours will circulate and this is inevitable. Security staff are not the only members of staff going through a period of change and uncertainty at the moment and when decisions have been made they will be communicated to everyone.”

The biggest fear is that after the review night-portering services will be cut. Swindlehurst confirmed that this option had been under discussion but said that no decision would be taken without full consultation with staff. “There has been a discussion about that, I don’t know whether that’s in the final proposal or not. If we decide to change any of the structures that’s when we’ll engage with the individuals themselves. We’re not going to make that decision without talking to students and colleges alike,” he said.

“At the moment that decision’s not been made. We’re very conscious not to reduce the service that we’ve been giving. We really do want to provide a world class service for everybody here and we’re not going to do that if we just cut costs regardlessly.” Night portering was brought in around 15 years ago after complaints from the Students’ Union, with an agreement that an increase in students’ rent would cover the cost of porters being on site 24 hours a day. Rent for next year has gone up be a further 6.7%. Staff are worried that without night porters students will be put at risk.

“Everybody that works in University House seems to think that things only happen when they’re here. They forget that after five o’clock and at weekends there are only the porters,” SCAN was told. “[One of the authors of the recent review] said that the Head of Security told him that nothing happens after midnight. That’s just when the bars are closing, at two, three, four o’clock in the morning, that’s just when students are coming home from nightclubs. We have a lot of problems during the night.

“Has it not occurred to the powers that be that as the students pay for the night porters they are thinking of removing a service that costs the University nothing? What kind of private enterprise would contemplate such a thing?”

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