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Final outcome of restructure consultation following feedback

We know this is a worrying time for the MS Community, our volunteers and our staff. The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on our organisation and, like so many other charities, we’ve been hit hard financially. We expect significant income loss this year and next.

We’ve been consulting with staff and volunteers on some urgent changes we need to make to our organisation. This will mean people changes, including some redundancies, and stopping some of what we do.

Thanks for your feedback
Thank you to everyone who responded and shared thoughtful and constructive feedback to the proposed restructure. As ever, your commitment to our cause and support of our community shines through.

Our Executive Directors have spent considerable time reviewing each piece of feedback from staff and volunteers.

They’ve listened very carefully to what has been said and as a result have chosen to make some changes to the proposals to reflect the feedback received. You can find more about these and other common themes drawn from the feedback, and our Executive Directors’ response to these below.

This response, combined with our previous article on the Volunteer website detailing the proposed restructure (You can find this here), forms the basis of the changes we will be implementing in phase one of our restructure.

Phase two and beyond
A second phase of the restructure will take place in the autumn and this will include support areas such as finance, facilities, administrative resource and fundraising processes across the organisation. These are the teams that provide support to our community facing roles. We’ll keep you informed if there are any changes you need to be aware of.

We know that some of you may have concerns over things changing or stopping. We understand this. That’s why we’ve committed to carrying out a review of how everything is going in 12 months’ time. We will ask for volunteer feedback on what’s working and what’s not. We will listen to all of this and commit to making adjustments where we need to and are able to.

Implementing these changes now will help us to make the savings we need so that we can continue to be here for people living with MS for many years to come.

You can find out more about each theme by clicking the links below:

  1. Support to local groups
  2. Suggestion to continue our individual grants
  3. Suggestion to reduce expenditure on senior managers and/or reduce back office/support costs
  4. Suggestion to sell our London office and move into less expensive offices
  5. Suggestion for more collaboration with other charities
  6. Suggestion that the consultation period should have been longer
  7. Concerns that technology and digital support need to improve to enable new ways of working
  8. Additional adjustments for awareness
  9. What happens next

If you have any questions you can contact Supporter Care via email [email protected], or phone: 0300 500 8084.

Support to local groups

What we heard from you was concern that our new structure wouldn’t provide enough support for local groups. Or that it would be faceless and not personalised to each group’s individual needs. There was a strong desire to keep our frontline/local support or to organise all volunteer support on a regional basis.

Providing the best support to our community remains our priority and we are confident the new structure will provide high quality support to volunteers. This would just be delivered in a different way which is more cost effective and consistent, and which ensures the future of our organisation.

However, we understand your worry, especially when it involves people you have built such strong relationships with. After listening carefully to your concerns, we’ll be making some significant changes to the original proposal to strengthen local group relationships with staff and provide more support locally for development across the UK.

UK-wide Community Networks team

Within the new Community Networks team we’re increasing the proposed Regional Development Officers (RDOs) in England to nine and the number of Community Development Officers (CDOs) in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to two in each nation. This is a 50% increase in the total number of roles across the UK (new total of 15, from 10 in our previous proposals). This is in direct response to feedback from volunteers and staff.

Each of these RDOs/CDOs will be responsible for bringing together volunteers, professionals and the MS community in their regions. This will include running forums, information events and other activities - they will be an active and visible member of the local MS community, who will develop ongoing relationships with key volunteers across their regions. Whilst they won’t be the contact for day-to-day support needs for local groups, they will be able to provide support and advice on broader issues such as developing new services, responding to the needs of the MS community, sharing intelligence on new opportunities or priorities, and working across groups.

These will be funded in part by additional investment and in part by removing three other roles from the new structure. Two roles to be removed are the part-time Policy Officers in Northern Ireland and Wales. The third role to be removed will be one of the proposed Campaigns Officers in the Campaigns team, with RDOs and CDOs taking a more active role in supporting local campaigning for people with MS.

We will also add an additional Stakeholder Engagement Officer post to the Stakeholder Engagement team taking the total to four. This will be funded by removing the proposed new Involvement Officer post in the new structure.

UK-wide Volunteer Support team

Our skilled Volunteer Support team will ensure the day to day needs of our volunteers are met, by providing high quality, consistent and responsive support on the phone and online.

Following your feedback, we will also allocate each group to a named primary contact within the Volunteer Support team. This team will still operate as an integrated team across the UK, with any member of the team able to respond to an enquiry from any group. However, we hope that having a primary named person for each group will help to build the continuity of support that we know is so important to our volunteers. That named person will be the primary person who contacts each group regularly, and will be on hand to help with guidance and advice on how to run a group, preparing service level agreements, helping to resolve volunteer issues and sourcing volunteers specialist advice or support when needed.

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Suggestion to continue our individual grants

Your feedback highlighted your concerns around the lack of financial support for people with MS in the future and also an increased workload for volunteers who will be overseeing local grants. There was also a concern about a possible "postcode lottery" in the provision of grants from local groups.

We understand the importance of our grants programme to people with MS, and that the extended pause of this service will remove a valuable source of support to the MS community. However, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing us to make very difficult decisions, and we do not believe there is an alternative that would generate the scale of savings required without a greater negative impact on the community.

Under our proposals we were not expecting additional groups to start awarding grants as an alternative to our national programme, but did want to give groups who already award grants, or those who wish to, the freedom to continue to award grants locally. The new grants coordinator will support groups with their local grant giving, including ensuring that processes are consistent across the UK and that volunteers have the training and support that they need.

Many staff and volunteers were concerned about the possibility of a "postcode lottery" in grants provision from local groups. We understand these concerns. The nature of the MS Society, where groups raise and spend their own funds locally, means that there will always be an element of variation.

Some volunteers suggested the possibility of pooling resources for grants at a regional or national level to reduce this variation and we would welcome a discussion with volunteers once our new structure is embedded to understand the appetite for this amongst local groups. More on this will follow at a later date and we look forward to hearing your views.

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Suggestion to reduce expenditure on senior managers and/or reduce back office/support costs

Our strategy commits us to being as efficient and effective as possible in the way that we work, and that includes ensuring that we have a lean but fit-for-purpose management structure.

Some volunteer feedback suggested that the Society is too top heavy and should look at reducing the number of senior managers in the organisation to save costs.

Our overall staffing profile, both in terms of staff numbers and average salary costs, is similar to that of other comparable organisations, but we recognise there is room for improvement. For that reason, we have already reduced our Executive Director team by 33% (from 6 to 4) in December 2019. We expect the overall reduction of posts from the Executive team restructure, along with the phase one (community facing teams) restructure and the phase two (roles that support community facing teams) restructure to result in around 20% reduction in senior management posts. This is proportionately a higher reduction than for other levels of posts within our organisation.

Going forward, we’ll look for opportunities to refine our management structures as part of our ongoing focus on continuously improving our overall efficiency and effectiveness. But we do not believe that there is a further significant savings opportunity from removing more senior managers, over and above what’s already in our plans, that could be captured at this stage.

Feedback also suggested that we could look at reducing our back office and support costs to make some vital savings. This will be the focus of phase two of our restructure programme, and has already been considered as a key part of the measures needed to reduce expenditure by £4m per year.

While phase one of the restructure is focused on our community facing roles, phase two, which starts in the autumn, will focus on the support we provide to community facing teams. The size and shape of the community facing teams will have an impact on the level of support we require to support them which is why we are starting this phase later.

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Suggestion to sell our London office and move into less expensive offices

This theme came up a number of times in the feedback received and is already covered in our existing plans.

Our colleagues have known for some time that we are in the process of selling the MS National Centre in Cricklewood, London. We plan to move into an office less than half the size of our current building, made possible by more flexible, agile working.

In total, we anticipate an additional saving of £100k per annum by making this move. This is a significant cost saving in comparison to the costs that relocating to somewhere outside of London would incur, once relocation costs and the costs of further redundancies and rehiring in the new location have been considered.

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Suggestion for more collaboration with other charities

Many volunteers and staff suggested improved collaboration with other MS charities as a way to reduce duplication and costs.

Our strategy recognises the importance of forging creative strategic partnerships. We actively work together with a number of other MS organisations and remain very open to any discussions about closer working. However, our understanding is that this is not currently a focus for other MS charities.

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Suggestion that the consultation process should have been longer

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing the MS Society, like many other charities, to make urgent savings to safeguard our future. Whilst we understand that some staff and volunteers would have liked more time to consider our proposals, this had to be balanced against the need to move quickly, and also to avoid drawing out uncertainty for our colleagues. Based on the level of engagement with volunteers and staff, and the detailed responses we received, we feel confident that staff and volunteers were able to respond fully to the proposals.

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Concerns tech and digital support needs to improve to enable new ways of working

We will ensure a range of contact methods are available so every group and volunteer will be able to access support. Our new Volunteer Support team will be available on the phone, and we expect that a significant proportion of our contact with volunteers will continue to be via the phone. This team will be on hand for day-to-day support needs (including around digital and tech).

We’re also creating a new role dedicated to looking after the range of IT systems that volunteers use, and providing specialist support to volunteers where needed.

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Additional adjustments for awareness

Strengthening our national services

In our proposed plans, we highlighted that there are a range of specialist roles across the organisation who currently have a UK-wide remit for providing support to people affected by MS. There are others whose roles could be expanded to become UK wide, enabling us to increase the reach, impact and equality of our service.

We are moving a small number of existing roles to increase the consistency, reach and impact of our support to the MS community, as detailed in our article on the proposed changes within the section ‘Strengthening our national services’ (You can find this here). However, the neuro-physiotherapist post will remain within the Northern Ireland team rather than move to the Helpline Team as the post does not currently have capacity to take on a UK-wide brief. We will work with the postholder over the coming months to explore how we might develop our neuro-physio capacity.

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What happens next

Right now, nothing changes for volunteers and you’ll continue to receive support as you always have done.

We have communicated our final decisions to all our staff and we will now begin the process of implementing these changes to our staff structure, but this will take a few weeks. It may therefore be difficult for some colleagues during this process and we kindly ask that you are sensitive to this.

Once the new structure is up and running, your new contacts will get in touch with you to introduce themselves – this will likely be end of September or October, once recruitment is complete.

In the meantime, if you have any questions you can contact Supporter Care via email [email protected], or phone: 0300 500 8084 or speak to your Local Network Officer.

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