Not just a cleaning service

After scooping the Best Service Team of the Year in the Facilities Management and Building Cleaning category at the APSE Annual Service Awards 2018, APSE Direct caught up with Ian Hammond at Powys County Council to learn more about the secrets to the team’s success.

Powys County Council’s Cleaning Service has transformed over the past 18 months to ensure income generation to counteract losses out of its control, securing its continued relevance and value within the Local Authority and community. With the continued struggle of budget pressures and the general climate of cleaning services within local authorities, Powys Cleaning Service experienced a huge reduction when 80% of schools took their cleaning in-house in 2016. This prompted us to take a fresh look at our work streams and the services we were offering. Working closely with the Councils Housing Service on void property cleans in recent years, we identified many opportunities in the cycle of tenancy management, complementing the service we were already offering, to enable Housing to support tenants in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

A fresh portfolio of services has largely replaced the traditional roles of our team. These recent changes have created a wider-skilled, multi-functional workforce, able deal with most situations as they arise, often carrying out emergency, adhoc works.

This extension to services has been instigated on a needs basis. When needs of the property or tenant are discussed, we have offered to assist with anything that was not within the remit of the existing Property Management Service. These additional works were varied and we quickly developed an ethos greatly appreciated by our internal partners: “If it needs doing, why can’t we do it?” Utilising existing resources and the skills of our team members, we found there was very little we could not do!
Our willingness and ‘can do’ approach has secured us more work from other services, including our property, education and social services teams. This has now brought us to a position whereby we are often the first port of call for services looking to source a provider for various works.

We now carry out the following on a regular basis: Void property cleans and deep cleaning; De-cluttering and cleaning for tenants with physical or mental health conditions; Property clearances for abandoned tenancies and deceased tenants; Removal service for tenants and internal departments; Redistribution of unwanted furniture and household items; Painting and decorating; Garden clearances and general gardening, including grass, hedges, guttering, windows and pressure washing; Specialised cleaning services; (Floor Care) Training external cleaners; (Schools) Monitoring cleaning standards within schools (via SLA with Education); Provision of storage facilities; School Kitchen duct and extraction unit cleaning.

The initial aim of this development in our service was to sustain the business and open new streams of income generation. Our objective was to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for general cleansing, maintenance and related supportive services, open to all services within Powys County Council. With these new opportunities, our main challenge was to ensure the team were fully engaged and motivated to carry out these additional works. This meant a change in mind-set and a considerable amount of ‘thinking outside the box’ of which we had for many years worked within our own silo. Employees would also be required to undertake new training to enable them to carry out the new works in a safe and competent manner. These changes would take our employees out of their comfort zones, for training purposes, particularly computer literacy; also with now having to work with the public and other departments where previously they only had working interactions with their internal cleaning colleagues. Health and Safety requirements were a time consuming process as we had to update and create new risk assessments for all additional works we would be undertaking.

Close management was essential to ensure effective work flow and lead times, along with being able to deal with unexpected issues that may have arisen in order to adjust procedures if appropriate. One issue that arose was the turnaround time for property redecoration: We pride ourselves on a high standard of work but the demand for properties meant Housing needed them ready to re-let very quickly. We looked at this as a service issue and with the planned additional works were able to employ an additional member of staff, skilled and experienced in painting and decorating. This person now leads on redecoration works, allowing us to better assess and quote costs and timescales of works, and carry out the jobs more efficiently.

After initial reluctance from some team members at the prospect of these new works, which was softened by clear communication and motivation from our management team we now have a team united in positivity, embracing our fresh outlook and committed to problem solving and customer satisfaction. They have taken on board the reasons behind our service development strategy and welcome the prospect of new challenges, to the extent that they are actively seeking new work opportunities as they go about their daily duties.

They are a much happier workforce, enjoying the variety in their working weeks and developing new skills. Now working closely with the general public and supporting many residents in vulnerable positions.

We are now looking to develop a ‘Handy-Person’ type service to carry out household jobs. This would be available to all households for one-off visits on request or regular servicing. From discussions with our housing team we have found there is a great appetite for this service. This service would allow clients to request our existing services but also for small jobs like putting up a curtain rail or just re-arranging furniture; jobs that people may struggle with due to mobility or health issues. We would not be looking to carry out trade works (ie. major electrical, plumbing or building works) but basic jobs that will enable clients to maintain and enjoy their homes, improving their own well-being and perhaps the safety of their home. A further benefit to this scheme is that we could act as a point of contact for some residents, particularly the elderly or immobile. If our team had any concerns regarding a client’s wellbeing, we would forward these on to an appropriate service. We are also exploring the possibility of undertaking fumigation and pest control.

It has taken the will and hard work of the entire team to develop these new services. They have been rewarded with excellent levels of customer satisfaction and ever-increasing opportunities for the development of work streams.

The outstanding levels of customer service are ensuring repeat business and positive promotion through our internal and external partners, along with the general public. We firmly believe we are a good news story for Powys County Council (PCC), working in the best interests of both the Authority and its residents.