Dublin Fire Brigade, according to Knight, did not have a strategic plan and expresses difficulty in how any organisation with expenditure of A¢”šA¬118m could be fully effective without it. This finding was one of many in the strategic review of DFB at that time and was instigated by the Dublin City Council (DCC) on behalf of all 4 Dublin Local Authority funders of the service. These funders were and still are constantly seeking a reduction in their payment to DCC for fire service provision because of the reduction in Government Funding, and the poor uptake in the payment of the household charge.
1.2 Strategic Initiative.
The Knight report did not recommend areas to achieve cuts but set out a time frame to put in place a strategic plan for the future direction of the organisation. The new DFB Strategic Plan 2011 identified the East Regional Control Centre (ERCC) as a location where significant savings could be made without compromising quality and service provision. The ERCC is currently staffed by fire-fighter/paramedics who would be substituted with civilians on lower rates of pay and shorter, more productive night shifts. It was supposed to be a major area for cost savings (A¢”šA¬1.8m) and has backing from the Department for the Environment. (DOELG)
Morgan et al (1995) suggests that it is one thing to formulate a strategic initiative and another to implement it successfully, and state ‘public sector employees are not especially enthusiastic about change’. (ibid p.169.) Many obstacles and hurdles exist and must be overcome including union resistance to open negotiations. Management decided none the less to forge ahead in the preparatory and behind the scenes work to advance this initiative and were ready to implement it unilaterally if union agreement was not forthcoming in early 2012.
2.0 Strategic Planning and the Public Service.
2.1 Public Interest.
The DFB operates in the wider public service and has different forces operating on it. Analysis of public service strategy is more complex than the private sector. Lynch (2011, p.656) suggests that this is the main reason because of the ‘wide ranging and ill-defined subject of the public interest’. It does not exist to make a profit but to fulfill the role of providing emergency services, a role which it has successfully performed since its foundation. In the current economic climate this is not enough anymore, the job must be performed to the highest quality level at the minimum level of cost. In the words of Fitzsimons (2013), better, faster, cheaper.
The ERCC having been identified as Pollitt and Bouckhaert (2000) describe as an area where greater efficiencies, higher levels of service and lower costs can be achieved by civilianising the workforce. Management believe that having a dedicated and trained civilianised workforce will deliver on these savings and competencies when compared with the more highly paid, essentially part time (performing fire-fighting and ambulance duties in rotation also), underutilised (not productive enough in down time) and over qualified fire-fighter/paramedics. These can be released to perform front line duties where they could be better utilised and are most needed at present due to lack of recruitment since 2008 and increased retirements up to Feb 2012.
3.0 Potential for industrial Action.
3.1 Service Quality.
In 1988 the then Management of the DFB attempted to deliver on a strategic objective to which the unions had rightly viewed as adversely affecting the level and quality of service provided. During the last economic crises, in 1988, it reduced the numbers employed by introducing voluntary incentivised retirement this adversely affected on the service delivery. The unions objected, resulting in a strike lasting 42 days. They also view the current ERCC issue in terms of a diminution of service provided and are digging their heels in consequently. Conflict in relations is not necessarily a bad thing especially when Gunnigle et al. (2002, p. 311) attests that it can lead to ‘positive changes in management practice’. DCC/DFB management need to take cognisance of this fact and act accordingly.
The strategic plan and its implementation are functions of senior management at this time. Middle management and supervisors working at the coalface have had little or no input into its formulation and therefore along with the workforce have no ownership of the process. McLoughlin and Wallis (2007, p.3) suggest that top-down policy leadership needs to be complemented by effective “middle-out” organizational leadership and taking cognisance of bottom up opinion. Autocratic style leadership in this instance can only lead the organisation on a bruising journey which will only damage the good name and high regard it is held in by the general public (96% overall satisfaction rate in DFB customer satisfaction survey 2007)
4.0 Innovation and Selection.
The fact that civilianisation can even be considered is down to developing technology, including information technology (IT). Fitzsimons (2013) maintains that technology push is the new knowledge created by technologists or scientists that pushes the innovation process. This process has effectively removed police, fire and ambulance service call takers from modern control centres worldwide with new and innovative solutions available to record and sort information and mobilise the correct appliance. This technology is installed in the ERCC currently but with one major omission, caller identification and location information automatically filling the call card but its implementation is now technically possible. The Management of the DFB will have to secure funding to implement this new information system (IS) to target this innovative IT to ensure civilianisation is a success. A strong business case will need to be provided by a technical expert to extract funding in this current economic mess. Wall (2012) suggests that it is not about the IT it’s about ‘how the IT changes the way we work for the better’
4.2 Selection Process.
The pool of applicants and the selection process will also have a bearing on success. Staff redeployment will be critical and as Gallagher (2009) suggest that ‘it will be important in the execution of the strategy’. These personnel are expected to be redeployed from the 4 Dublin Local Authorities but in the ERCC operations restructure document of (O’Dwyer, 2011), he has insisted on securing internal ownership of the selection process and deciding on the successful candidates. In the current economic situation with embargo on promotion in the public service and no prospect of advancement, it is expected that there will be a large number of capable and enthusiastic applicants for the vacancies. The successful staff can expect a 20% shift allowance with the prospect of promotion to supervisor for some and also the chance of filling technical vacancies as they arise for others.
5.0 Organisational Knowledge and Resilience.
5.1 Know How.
Organisational knowledge is of paramount importance and the collective knowledge of those operating the ERCC is vital to its success. It is a core competency of the organisation and has been acquired by individuals, having been exposed to and learned from experience, over time at work. Johnson et al. (2008, p.107) maintains that it is the ‘collective experience accumulated through systems, routines and activities of sharing across the organisation’. Current staff will be needed to share this knowledge and their cooperation will be vital in the training of civilians. There has to be a gradual introduction of new personnel over an extended period of time and management will need full backing of existing staff to achieve this without compromising on quality of service provide or endangering members of the public due to mistakes.
In the modern world, resilience has to be built into DFB operations and this most certainly includes the ERCC now and into the future. Resilience is defined in Collins Dictionary as ‘recovering quickly and easily from shock’ and is central to strategic thinking in DFB and the responsible government department. It came to the fore following the 9/11 atrocity in New York, other large sale attacks and also following large scale natural disasters. A At present if the ERCC system fails, the fire-fighter/paramedic call takers and officer supervisors revert to a paper based recording and dispatch system. This along with their understanding of how the system works on the ground allows for a continued service however constrained. New entrants will not have this embedded competency and other avenues will have to be sought to provide resilience such as reciprocal agreements with other emergency control centre’s throughout Ireland.
6.0 Culture and Acceptance.
6.1 Organisational Culture.
The strong cultural landscape of DFB has been forged over generations (founded in 1862) and as Thompson and Martin (2005, p.341) contend ‘When the culture is strong, people know what is expected of them and they understand how to act and decide in particular circumstances’. Management has a huge task in persuading the existing personnel to have faith and take the leap to allow civilianisation in the ERCC. Some will see it as the first step towards a revolutionary push towards increasing and eventually total privatisation of emergency services in the city. They could have a point, as demonstrated by Dún Laoighaire/Rathdown County Council advertising for consultancy expertise to advice on privatising the fire service in its functional area. The in effect would lead to the breakup of DFB.
6.2 Acceptance as an Integral Part of the Organisation.
Hill and Jones (2007) maintain that successful strategy implementation is managing organisational culture which is the specific collection of values and norms shared by people and groups in an organisation. The ERCC building forms part of the complex facility that is the Headquarters Fire Station and only electronic access doors separate them. All facilities such as personal lockers, showers and mess facilities are on the station side so integration of civilians and fire staff will have to be achieved if the ERCC is to operate from its present site. The ERCC management envisions a scenario whereby the new control centre staff and command structure is aligned and seamlessly fits in the existing operation. O’Dwyer (2011) insists that they wear the same uniform and will integrate and communicate with operational officers in a professional and respectful manner. The ERCC is and must always be maintained as a disciplined and controlled environment. Managements aim is to integrate the new personnel into the culture of the existing organisation so that in time they become part of the fabric of DFB. Is this possible? The author is of the opinion that this would only possible through effective leadership from senior management along with the ‘adaptive culture’ of the organisation. Fitzsimons (2013).
The current economic climate is forcing change upon the DFB and the resultant strategic plan envisions and targets the civilianisation of the ERCC as a major focus for organisational savings for 2013. Strategic plans can be easy to design and formulate but their implementation can be problematic. This is most certainly true of the plan for the ERCC especially when considering the view point of the recognised unions, absolute refusal to engage in negotiations. Management has its work cut out to advance this project whilst bringing along the staff on the journey in the absence of union engagement and effective senior management leadership. DFB operational staff have taken the ultimate in industrial action before (1988 strike), in response to perceived safety issues. DCC/DFB management must act accordingly and quickly to make the business case for such change and justify its planned actions in terms of the measures it is willing to put in place to ensure that the new set up will be as efficient and successful as the one presently in place. To this end ERCC management has formulated a plan which puts in place strict criteria for selection, recruitment, training and competencies to be achieved by the new personnel. This is to guarantee that the quality and effectiveness of the facility will be maintained in the orderly changeover and in the future which will allay the fears of unions in these potentially stormy and changing times.