Immortalised in British legend, Monet paintings and countless sightseeing snaps the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is one of the most eminent structures in the London landscape.
With parts of its neo-gothic structure over 150 years old, its upkeep is a monumental task – one that could cost anything from estimates of £9 billion to £22 billion and 26 to 76 years to complete.
Numerous stakeholders across engineering, architecture and design will be involved, and coordinating them all is the Restoration and Renewal (R&R) Delivery Authority.
The sheer scale and importance of the project was not lost on HR director Janet Campbell when she accepted the role in 2020.
She says: “It was the opportunity to be involved, in some small way, in developing the schemes to restore and renew the Houses of Parliament; who wouldn’t want to do that?
“It’s an iconic project, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and all these superlatives.”
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As a multibillion-pound draw on the public purse, the restoration project is also considered controversial, something Campbell and her team are all too aware of.
When setting out values for the Delivery Authority, Campbell and a dedicated focus group instilled ‘We treat money like it is our own’ under the ways to behave with integrity.
“There will always be challenge and pressure on costs with a project like this, which is absolutely right because we are accountable to the public. It’s important to continually remind ourselves and our colleagues of the national significance of this programme,” she says.
“We are privileged to work on this project, and we do a lot of work to make sure all colleagues are bought into our really clear mission to restore the nation’s most iconic building and the heart of our democracy.”
“It’s an iconic project, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and all these superlatives”
In 2022, the project underwent a restructure as the Lords Commission established a single Client Team to report directly to both the House of Commons and House of Lords. It was a setback for R&R, but Campbell is optimistic of progress since then.
Next on the agenda, she says, will be how the programme deals with a general election.
“We’re thinking about the next stage of organisation development and the uncertainty that an election will have on the Delivery Authority and the programme’s governance.
“While a new government is being formed, and priorities are established, Parliamentary Commissions, Committees and Boards – including the R&R Client and Programme Boards – would get re-constituted.”
Setting an HR strategy in such changeable conditions is admittedly challenging, but thankfully it is not the first time she has had to organise so many moving parts.
In the early 2000s, Campbell was an integral part of the HR team that built media regulator Ofcom, bringing together five regulators from TV and broadcasting.
“It was complex, and we had to do it in a short space of time,” she recalls. “There was a drop-dead date of the 29 December 2003 – that date will be with me forever.”
As a government-approved, rather than run, authority, Ofcom required a new set of rules that kept public service front of mind yet distinct from the civil service.
“The first thing was to create the framework to enact the TUPE transfer and there were some specific TUPE regs for Ofcom because what we were doing had never been done before,” she explains.
To create stability, the HR team pledged not to transfer anyone over if they wouldn’t have a job by the time the merger was complete.
She says: “When we moved everybody in people could settle down and we could get on with building the organisation without having that worry in the back of your mind because you didn’t quite know what’s going to happen to you.”
The team also drew up a new contract deemed the ‘Ofcom offer’.
“The whole point was – let’s unite as many people as we can,” says Campbell. “The Ofcom offer was the Ofcom offer; it wasn’t the best of this and the best of that and the best of the third, it was what we thought we needed to do to create this amazing organisation and make it attractive.”
Policies, including maternity and annual leave, were positioned competitively, and included bonus additions like a ‘birthday day’ so all employees get their birthday off.
“Competing on salary alone was never going to be it,” she adds, “So it was really important underpin to the reward strategy there with a good, strong, holistic package.”
The 11 years Campbell spent as HR director at Ofcom included the time the regulator was put under pressure to investigate News Corporation following the 2011 phone hacking scandal. It was difficult, she reflects, but “what Ofcom always tried to do, and I can only speak for my time there, is it always tried to be a fact-based regulator.
“Everything we did had to have some evidence to support it, whether we did something externally or internally.”
As well as taking an evidence-based approach to HR, keenly honed at Ofcom, throughout her career Campbell has been guided by the principle of fairness in HR without being overly prescriptive.
Critical of fairness within the HR profession at large, she cites CIPD data which showed that if HR were a person, they would be white, female and able-bodied (based on the majority demographics of its membership).
“Making HR more inclusive is absolutely imperative, because if HR is not inclusive, then I don’t see how a business can be inclusive,” she says.
“HR operates horizontally across an organisation, so it has a voice and a role to play to encourage inclusivity and equity, at the start, so it’s embedded in a thing, rather than an afterthought.”
Though encouraged by progress, particularly since the Black Lives Matter movement, Campbell remembers a time when she felt othered and codeswitching was critical for her to get by.
“There came a point where I thought that’s just too exhausting so I’m not doing that anymore – this is who I am,” she says.
Wanting to contribute to positive change, she has now joined the CIPD mentoring scheme as a role model for other budding professionals.
“I want an opportunity to play my part in supporting other aspiring HRDs to come through and break that ceiling,” she says.
“We are seeing a change; I no longer go into a room and think, gosh, I’m the only black HR director in this room.”
One of her prevailing concerns is how AI could disrupt progress, in a similar way early psychometrics had inbuilt bias.
She says: “AI is an absolute threat, a 100% threat to inclusion, and equity and diversity.
“The AI industry is not as diverse as it might be, both in terms of gender and ethnicity, those people in control of developing the machine learning come at it from a very particular perspective.”
Pressures continue to mount at the Delivery Authority as Parliament deliberates on which route it will take. When it does make the decision though, Campbell says she and the team will be ready to take the project up a gear.
Up to now, much of their work has been identifying and planning for the skills that will be needed to complete the project.
“Our research tells us that there is a shortage of specialist conservation and heritage construction skills, and this offers huge potential for the Delivery Authority to maximise jobs and training opportunities across the UK,” she says.
“There are many challenges – we know that the population of skilled technicians is reducing, and we are planning to work in partnership with training providers across the UK and through our supply chain to develop apprenticeships and skills programmes that will create jobs and inspire careers.”
By the end of the year, Campbell is hopeful of a clearer view on how to proceed. Until then she will be pushing forward, focused on the task at hand.
The palace may not be visible from her office but, she points out, if you can see the London Eye the Houses of Parliament are never that far away.
This article was first published in the July/August 2023 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.