Making the news

Making the news

Mark Eltringham meets FM Graduate of 2001 Albert Lightfoot, of Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust, who says facilities managers need a more “strategic voice”.

Is a pattern emerging? For the second year running, the Facilities Management Graduate of the Year is a student of the Facilities Management Graduate Centre at Sheffield Hallam University with a background in engineering and a day job with a provincial NHS trust. This year’s winner of the award, jointly sponsored by the BIFM and Claremont Business Environments, is Albert Lightfoot, facilities manager with Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust.

His work for the trust covers two vastly different hospitals. One serves the seaside town of Southport, with its air of slightly faded gentility and which is home to a large proportion of elderly people. The other serves the not very genteel rural market town of Ormskirk. He is responsible at the two sites for a range of hotel services that include parking, catering, laundry, portering and cleaning. He is also responsible for the energy and environmental performance management for the trust’s buildings.

The essay that won him the award, on the subject of change management, touches on a number of sore points that many facilities managers have to endure. Not many facilities professionals would disagree with his statement that “facilities managers are constrained to rethinking the processes involved in providing support to the non-core elements of the business, whilst they are unable to contribute at the highest level to the organisation’s change management objectives,” nor with his point that “the organisation must seek to give the facilities manager a proactive role in the change management process.”

Ironically, despite winning its award as Facilities Management Graduate of the Year, he is not a member of the BIFM (British Institute of Facilities Managers) and doesn’t appear to feel an overwhelmingly compelling desire to join. His views, his background and his apparent indifference to his own trade body make him typical of many modern facilities managers. Who better to represent the views of a largely silent number of people working in the facilities profession?

Mark Eltringham: You complain in your essay that FM has too little influence on setting strategy for property and estates. Is that the case at your own trust?

Albert Lightfoot: Predominantly in our trust the procedure is that the estates strategy is to provide the best environment we can for the patients. When we’ve got buildings of the right quality we then need FM strategies and service strategies that maintain and use them in the best possible way. But it’s no good having nicely decorated buildings if you haven’t got clean sheets on the beds or if yon haven’t got porters or domestics to deliver the right level of service to patients.

These are the people who form the face of FM as far as the patients are concerned. We’re providing a much greater customer focus. Throughout the NHS as a whole there is an expectation that you will provide a good experience for customers. It should be no different going into the restaurant at the hospital than going into McDonald’s. If you go into a hospital, you’ve got to expect the same level of service you’d get anywhere else. At the end of the day, you are paying for that service.

ME: Do you think the NHS is typical of the broader approach to FM?

AL: In the NHS, FM has rather more strategic influence than it has in the private sector. A study published two years ago showed that 75% of heads of FM in the NHS were at director level. But there’s still a view that FM is very operational. It’s all about cleaning floors and running the car parks. Whether FM will move in a different direction in the future is uncertain. Within my department I’m very keen that instead of having a split between estates and hotel services, which is the traditional split in the NHS, we have a service that is seamless. Some people within the organisation think I’m anti hotel services, but really I’m pro-FM. It’s important for everybody to work together to provide a seamless service. In many organisations that split still exists. But increasingly people are looking for a single FM provider.

ME: Is your work mainly in-house?

AL: Currently nearly all services are managed inhouse. There are various elements that are contracted out including some general maintenance.

ME: So PFI doesn’t play a big role in what you do?

AL: PFI doesn’t play a role currently but, of course, any public sector provider has to have a view on PFI. One of mine is that the money has to come from somewhere. There doesn’t appear to be much evidence that contracted out services are automatically better or worse than directly managed services; it’s all down to good management, efficiency and service delivery.

ME: Your background is in engineering, which seems like a common route into the profession. How do you think that colours the way you perceive your role?

AL: I think my view up until about three or so years ago was that the harder services were most important. The other side is the interface you have with the patients, and if those services are perceived to be poor then that is how you are perceived. There’s still a bias towards builders and engineers in NHS facilities, but that’s being eroded. I would hope that engineers are acquiring new skills, but I’m not sure that all of them are.

ME: And is this how you thought your career would pan out?

AL: No. Way back when I was an apprentice fitter, my ambition was to be the chief engineer of an organisation. When I came to the NHS, I realised that ambition. I’ve had the opportunity to go on from there and get involved in general management.

ME: Do you miss the hands-on work?

AL: I like to stay involved but I don’t feel any need to go down the boiler room every day.

ME: Can you describe your use of Greencode?

AL: Greencode is a piece of software that we’ve adopted as an environmental audit tool. It’s particularly suited to the NHS. We’re looking to improve environmentally in all our operations. The chairman is very keen on green issues.

ME: Could you also explain ‘ERIC’ for layreaders?

AL: Ah, ERIC is the bane of most estates managers’ lives. It’s an annual return that we submit to NHS Estates. This year there were about 150 fields to fill in, ranging from the quality of our buildings to the backlog of maintenance work. The process involves more and more work every year. In the past ERIC has just been a resource for NHS Estates; now it’s becoming more of a performance management tool. We can look at comparable trusts and know how they are performing in terms of energy costs, maintenance, cleaning and portering.

AL: And how do you think the NHS compares to other sectors, and in particular, the private sector?

AL: I don’t have a great understanding of the private sector so it would be wrong to comment on that. But in the NHS we are taking on more and more services. And I don’t think many of the things we do are non-core. A porter pushing a patient round the building, for example, is core to health provision.

ME: Your essay makes a number of points that will be familiar to many facilities managers. Most notably, about the lack of strategic influence of the profession in areas like change management. But many people in the profession seem unsure about how to develop that influence. Why is that?

AL: It’s easy to see where architecture or engineering are as professions. But it’s difficult with FM because it’s more broad. It’s Catch 22 – if you haven’t got strategic influence how do you go about developing a strategic voice?

But in the NHS there is a growing focus on the environment, and a growing recognition that facilities management in the NHS is of strategic importance.

Mark Eltringham is editor of FMX magazine.

Copyright Wilmington Publishing Ltd. Mar 2002

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