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Professional and administrative services - a message from the Vice-Chancellor

Sir David Bell

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor

Dear colleague

Earlier this year, the University began work on a major review of our professional and administrative support services, an exercise referred to generally as PAS. This forms a part of the wider Efficiency and Effectiveness programme, an important element of the University Strategy.

Many of you will recall being asked to complete an activity analysis, and we were grateful to receive in excess of 1900 returns. The data gathered allowed us to build a comprehensive picture of the professional and administrative support activity across the University. This part of the exercise was complemented by a series of workshops looking in more detail at particular types of activity, with participants in the workshops coming from all our Schools and central services.

The activity analysis and subsequent workshops provided many examples of good practice. However, all those involved also identified a range of opportunities for improving how we do things, particularly ways in which we might avoid duplication of effort, standardise certain core processes and increase efficiency through the use of more automated systems. Over the last few months, therefore, colleagues have undertaken a thorough analysis of the data. Opportunities for change have been identified and a set of recommendations has now been approved by the University Executive Board (UEB). 

The core proposal is that, in future, all professional and administrative support activities will be delivered from newly-structured central services. This means, amongst other things, that it is proposed the line management of relevant professional and administrative support staff will be transferred, in due course, from our Schools and Departments to the central services. It is very important to stress that this does not mean that staff will no longer be physically located within Schools and Departments - that is not the intention.

There is much work to be done now in designing the scope and shape of the new central services. It is anticipated that within the new structures certain core activities will be concentrated in particular areas. At this stage, the proposals point to centralised units for Financial Transaction Support, Technical Support, and General Administration Support. 

The type of activity that might be contained within General Administration Support, by way of example, includes the organisation of meetings, events and conferences, the provision of bulk scanning, photocopying and printing services, document management and managing office supplies.

I am sure you will be asking why the University believes this is the right way to proceed. There are two broad reasons. Firstly, there is a genuine, and shared, commitment to deliver the best possible support services we can. Secondly, and equally importantly, there is a need to ensure that the services we provide are cost-effective and affordable. 

 

The University is fortunate to have underpinning financial strength which allows us to make major investments in new buildings and other facilities. But I have spoken previously about our high day-to-day operating costs, and our need to tackle the existing budget deficit. 

These proposals, if we meet all our objectives, have the potential to achieve annual savings in the region of £6m. This is an opportunity that, frankly, we cannot afford to lose if we are to put more money into our core activities of research and teaching.

You will, I am sure, be asking how this will affect you and your job. We will seek to achieve the levels of savings predicted in many different ways, for example through normal staff turnover. But I need to be honest and say that, by the end of the exercise, it is certain that we will require fewer support jobs than we have currently. However it is too early to be able to state specifically the numbers and types of jobs concerned. 


I understand that this will create a period of uncertainty. So to try to minimise this, there will be early opportunities to consider voluntary severance. The Director of Human Resources will be saying more about this in due course.

One thing I can say is that you will not be affected by any changes immediately. The scope and ambition of this project is significant, and we are determined to get it right. That means implementing the new arrangements with as little disruption to normal business as possible. 

The intention is to move carefully and steadily to the new structures over the next one to two years. In the next three to six months, the focus will be on the design of the new structures. This will begin with a comprehensive process review exercise, and there will be opportunities for contributions from School -and Department-based staff. In turn, this will help define the range of services to be delivered, how those services are delivered and the service-level agreements that will underpin the new support structures. Only then will we be able to determine the type and number of jobs contained therein.

I will ensure that there is a constant flow of information throughout this phase of the exercise, and of course we will consult with all staff affected by the changes at the appropriate time. Further information and some initial frequently asked questions (FAQs) are available here - we will add to these as necessary as the programme progresses.

I recognise that the changes proposed will be daunting. But as I said above, there is also a great opportunity to improve the day-to-day services that support the University's core activities.

If you have any immediate questions about the programme, you can direct them to John Brady, Director of Human Resources, in his capacity as the Project Sponsor for PAS. He can be contacted at j.j.brady@reading.ac.uk.

Sir David Bell KCB

Vice-Chancellor

 

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