Friday 5 May 2023
The Peak District National Park Authority has confirmed that an internal workforce consultation process has begun after Members of the Authority approved a series of formal proposals as part of an organisational restructure at the Authority (28 April).
Staff at the Authority were informed of the proposals in a series of face-to-face meetings on Wednesday 3 May.
Among the proposals to be consulted upon is a change in the way the Authority engages visitors with the potential closing or repurposing of four visitor centres operated by the Authority at Bakewell, Castleton, Edale and Fairholmes in the Upper Derwent Valley.
Authority Members will approve any final proposals for implementation on 28 July.
Further proposals include reducing current senior management levels by more than half, along with the merging of some administrative services and potential outsourcing of some professional services.
Up to 65 people are at risk of redundancy with the creation of 31 new posts however, the Authority says it hopes to retain the skills and experience of as many staff as possible. Overall, the Authority anticipates a net reduction in its workforce of around 7%. Smaller changes to some other existing posts include role title differences or the moving of teams to alternative departments.
The announcement comes as the Authority says it has faced a 'real terms' cut in its annual Defra government grant of around 40% over the last decade; with the Authority receiving around the same grant now as it did in 2012, with no increases in line with inflation.
A recent one-off grant of £440,000 made available to all ten English national parks - representing less than 10% of the Authority’s annual baseline budget - will be used to help fund the transition towards a more sustainable operating model.
Major drivers for the proposed organisational change, alongside budget cuts, include the need to meet an increased demand in planning work and the changing way in which visitors now source information about their potential visit. The Authority’s four visitor centres currently host 400,000 people per year, around 1 in 30 of the Peak District’s estimated 13 million annual visitors.
In recent years in particular, digital and online reach has seen a dramatic increase at the Authority with its website now attracting around 2.5 million visits annually and a range of social media channels gathering a following of some 150,000. This in turn has led to wider audience contact that means around 750,000 people a year are now engaging with Facebook content generated by the Authority alone, with further audiences on channels such as Instagram.
Future ways in which the Authority engages with its millions of visitors are expected to take into account aspects such as online information, existing and new welcoming volunteer roles offering advice and guidance, publications such as an annual Welcome Guide, along with national park rangers and potential information points in high profile locations. Impacts on accessibility and diverse audiences will also be considered as part of any visitor provision should centres close.
In some locations such as Fairholmes, ranger and volunteer interactions across the wider site may help to support direct engagement, in contrast to the relatively limited numbers of people currently using the visitor centre.
Changes to the pay structure within the National Park Authority have also been highlighted within the proposals, with salaries in departments including planning and development routinely found to be lower than many similar organisations according to independent analysis.
This is thought to be a prominent factor behind a continued recruitment challenge for the Authority leading to additional, unsustainable demands on existing teams in the workforce. New proposed pay modelling aims to redress this balance and both ease pressures on staff and improve services received by the public.
Overall, a number of roles within the Authority will see pay scales changed as the organisation seeks to achieve parity with similar posts in comparable organisations by January 2024.
Chief executive Phil Mulligan said: "Any decisions that affect our workforce and colleagues are among the hardest to make. However, making these difficult choices now means that we can work towards a sustainable future for our organisation as a whole, where we have the ability to deliver well in the areas that are so crucial to the Peak District and our nation like the protection of our heritage, nature’s recovery and climate change.
"Of course, providing a public service for our visitors to ensure their time with us is safe, enjoyable and responsible – whatever their needs or background – is still crucial, but we also have to embrace new and dynamic ways to achieve this without some of the costs we have seen in recent years.
"I want to recognise the passion and energy that our front-facing staff bring to their role in welcoming visitors and that the tough decisions being proposed do not reflect these teams’ commitment, but are as a result of factors in the wider financial landscape.
"I also completely understand that proposed changes to the pay of other colleagues in the Authority may be hard to rationalise, however we also have our statutory obligations as a national park authority and these must be met; which is especially hard when we are unable to be competitive as an employer.
"The changes proposed will ultimately see us becoming a more affordable and resilient organisation in the face of ongoing financial uncertainty, and safeguard our critical role in caring for the Peak District."
The Authority confirmed that all visitor operations are continuing to operate as normal.