20 October 2010
Sheila Blackshaw manages a small team at the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) in Norcross, Blackpool. The agency looks after serving armed forces personnel and veterans by dealing with wages, pensions and compensation for injured, retired and serving personnel.
Something of a veteran herself, Sheila has been with the agency for 16 years and has worked in other government departments and agencies for a further 17 years: “I left school at 16 and went straight into what was then the Department of Health and Social Security. I worked there for 16 years in just about every section there was and needed something different,” she says.
The team she manages is responsible for training staff in the war pensions operational team, which looks at people’s entitlement, and in payments and maintenance, which deals with sending out payments and keeping records.
Once a year, an annual uprating exercise takes place where the team calculates the annual increases that should be allocated to war pensioners. Sheila is also drafting a new special payments guide for staff working on cases where the agency has taken too long to make a payment or made a mistake.
“Historically, the agency has always been an organisation that is known for its strong customer service focus, professionalism and strength in all areas,” explains Sheila.
“My job involves managing four staff, planning, delivering and evaluating training courses and liaising with the Department for Work and Pensions and the minister to agree the annual uprating increases to pensions and allowances. I also calculate and implement the increased rates and input them into the main computer system and I am personally drafting the new guide on maladministration.”
“I really enjoy the buzz of the three-month up-rating exercise where I feel alive and valued. I also enjoy the management side of my job as I have a really good and supportive team,” she adds.
The agency is currently facing cuts and Sheila’s job, along with those in her team are vulnerable. She says: “30% is the figure that is being bandied about, but we don’t know if this is just speculation or fact.
“Although nothing has been said to me or mine, the chances are that all five of our posts could potentially be cut. There is unlikely to be a need for any future training as no new staff are coming into the agency and what few there may be in the future will be ‘desk trained’ by other operational staff. The annual uprating exercise could in theory be tagged on to anybody’s job, and the guide is due for completion as soon as possible.
“I worry on a daily basis for all of us as to what the future holds.” PCS is outlining its strategy in meetings on the cuts.
My day normally starts at 7am when I log on to the internet and into my inbox – most of my work is generated by email.
I wait until my staff are in and then try and spend at least a short while with them to have an informal chat with them to see if they have any issues. Then it is a case of either reacting to work or queries received by email and dealing with any issues as they arise or working on the guide.
I am a member of the PCS branch executive so I attend the bi-monthly meetings. This year I have started day release training towards the Trades Union Congress’s diploma in employment law.
My working day usually ends at 3pm or 3.30pm.