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Tough love

13 October 2011

by David Arminas

Delegates at the Annual Charities FM Conference were 
told to prepare for the worst as cuts start to bite and salaries come under increasing scrutiny, reports Dave Arminas

There’s nothing like scare tactics to galvanise people into action and attendees at the Annual Charities Facilities Management Conference, organised by the Charities Facilities Management Group, got a fair dose of it.

Budget cuts to the charity sector mean that FM jobs are on the line, said Tom Hunt, head of facilities for the charity Citizens Advice, during his presentation on collaborative FM. The sector will lose around  £911 million a year in public funding by 2016.

“This could be the beginning 
of a very difficult period for all 
of us,” he said. 
    Unfortunately, salary makes up a large part of any charity’s budget, he continued. Around £250,000 of his nearly £2 million FM budget is for basic FM pay.

It’s very tempting to cut the FM headcount to save money, he said But there is safety in numbers. In an impassioned presentation, Hunt urged FMs to work together to show their organisations that they can save money. Charity FMs need to meet more often to exchange ideas, network and learn from each others’ experiences.

Joint procurement is one form of collaboration because, “sadly, size really is important when it comes to negotiating contracts”.

Hunt’s theory that the FM headcount could be under threat was reinforced by one delegate who said her department 
had cut three out of five 
FM jobs in the past year.

More collaboration between charity FMs might be difficult because of differing business ethics, said one delegate. Their organisation will work only with suppliers who pay the London Living Wage and this may not be essential for other charities.

Smaller charities may not have the time or the personnel to join FM organisations, according to another delegate. Their collaboration would be ad hoc and for specific programs only.
It doesn’t matter how charity FMs work together, as long as 
they communicate, Hunt told 
FM World.

Silver linings

Visions of FMs in the dole queue apart, there are some enlightened senior directors in the sector. 
Even before the first presentations started, a delegate told FM World that she had come from Bristol 
to find new ideas to take back 
to work. She manages energy consumption for her organisation, a charity that provides homes for elderly people. She and her job went unnoticed for a couple of years until the recent hike in energy prices. She now has “the ear of the chief executive for the time being and must make the most of it”, she said.

The conference theme of generally saving money, space and resources was exemplified 
by the Electoral Commission’s recent relocation within Westminster and the introduction of flexible working.

The search for new offices started in April last year and by December it had moved; it was a downsize from two floors and 1,624 square metres (17,481 square feet) of mostly cubicle offices to one floor and 1,141 square metres (12,282 square feet), open plan.

It was a massive culture 
change going from a desk ratio of almost one per person to seven desks for 10 employees, said 
Helen Reeves, head of human resources for the commission.
But statistics suggested flexible working was possible without too much upheaval. Desk occupancy in the old office was 55 per cent at peak times, she said. The public sector average is 58 per cent 
and private sector is around 
68 per cent.

It was design-consultant-employee communication that helped complete the project on time and on budget, which included the £750,000 office fit-out.

Reducing office space is hard and so is reducing a carbon footprint. But the Diocese of London believes it is on the right track. It reached its 80 per cent target for its headquarters, but says achieving a similar reduction over the rest of the estate will be particularly hard.

In fact, the reduction at the HQ was met years ahead of the target date – 2050. But the same target is set for all the estate and that includes 479 churches as 
well as many community-type 
halls, offices, a cathedral, schools and residences.

Getting near the targets, which start at 20 per cent by the end of next year, will be “very difficult”, Brian Cuthbertson, head of environmental challenge at the Diocese of London, told delegates in his plenary session.

The problem highlights the 
need for a good environmental auditor to know what baseline consumptions are and what consumption can accurately 
be measured. 

David Arminas is news editor at FM World