County Council revamps benefits

Buckinghamshire County Council has revamped its benefits package in order to position itself as a more attractive employer and boost take up of its perks.

Under the banner of total reward, it is introducing a raft of new benefits streamed into three groups: financial, family and health. Total reward has yet to be embraced by the public sector so the council is going out on a limb by using the concept to develop its benefits package.

From January, it will introduce an employee assistance programme (EAP), dental benefits, access to financial advice and an all-employee car ownership scheme. These will sit alongside its existing benefits which comprise discounted travel, flexible working options such as career breaks, learning vouchers and discounted gym membership. All will be offered on a voluntary basis to the council’s 15,000 staff. Its childcare voucher scheme has also been extended to a further 9,000 employees following recent amendments to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions which now allow teachers to participate in salary sacrifice arrangements.

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Gillian Hibberd, corporate director, organisational development and HR, said that it was also considering introducing total reward statements.

The revamp was triggered partly by feedback from employee focus groups earlier this summer which revealed a dissatisfaction with some of the council’s policies such as restricting private medical insurance cover and health screening to senior managers.

The council is also now considering introducing an alternative lower-cost voluntary healthcare benefit for all employees.

Next year, the Council will launch an employee learning account, which will build on the existing learning allowance, so that staff may spend up to five days a year on development.

The council’s pay structure is also earmarked for review as it hopes to improve the correlation between pay and performance, although it has ruled out bonus payments.

“We monitor the market to ensure we are competitive in our reward strategy and we want to develop a close link between contribution and reward. One of the problems is we’ve got so many benefits in place but take up of them isn’t good,” explained Hibberd.

The changes to its package forms part of the council’s new people strategy, which was launched in September and is aimed at making the council an employer of choice. “If you are the best employer you can bring in new talent,” added Hibberd.