A problem shared
Discover how SELECT is playing a key role in the Local Authority Forum and bring together expertise from across the country’s councils
The Local Authority Forum (LAF) was set up in 2007 and remains a valuable platform for councils and housing associations across Scotland to come together to share experience, develop ideas and resolve shared problems.Although COVID-19 has restricted the quarterly meetings organised by the LAF at SELECT’s Walled Garden headquarters, virtual meetings have been continuing online on an impromptu basis, bringing the LAF’s expertise to bear to find solutions to issues. Andy Graham, Housing Services Business Change Manager with Fife Council and current Chair of the full LAF, describes it as an invaluable group which helps to leverage the combined skills of its members to promote a shared approach to maintaining excellence in electrical standards.
Andy explained the format of the LAF meetings: “Before COVID-19, we would run the forum for a whole day. In the morning we might invite a manufacturer to give a presentation if the forum had identified a product of interest. As well as this, where new technologies and processes have been identified, we might invite an industry expert to present on how these technologies may assist us.
“We also invite Scottish Power to attend the forum to discuss communication and infrastructure issues as we are keen to build a closer working relationship with Distribution Network Operators.
“In the afternoon session I will give an update from the SELECT Electrotechnical Committee, which I also attend, and SELECT Technical Adviser Stuart McKelvie will also be on hand to provide technical support.
“This helps to keep LAF members up to date with developments, so they can feed that information back to their teams at their respective councils and housing associations.
“Before the meeting is concluded, the forum will discuss future agenda items and presentations that may be useful.
“SELECT’s Specifier and Client Relations Manager, Yvonne Wilson, facilitates every meeting and does a sterling job ensuring presentations are arranged and minutes are posted on the website, as well as circulating information and future agendas between members.”
The latest challenge is the cost of incorporating surge protection and arc fault disconnection in consumer units
Andy said the great strengths of the LAF are in its ability to encourage councils to share knowledge and experience and to act in a collective way to influence best practice. He explained: “Over the years we have built up a good degree of partnership working across the different councils where people are willing to share their knowledge and experience for the benefit of others.
“For instance, sharing technical and procurement documents from their own local authorities or procedures for undertaking certain types of electrical work – this helps others to not reinvent the wheel, saves time and promotes a consistency of approach.”
As there has been a growing request for knowledge exchange, particularly since the first COVID-19 lockdown, Andy has been running impromptu LAF sessions online – and the success of these mini-forums is an indication of how the LAF will develop going forward, reaching more councils through remote conferencing.
Andy said: “One council was looking for something to do with stair lighting, so I emailed forum members at other councils to see if someone had already been down this road. Another council had developed a document that took six months to get through procurement, so they shared that work, and this helped the other council see the route to market, which saved a lot of work.”
This mutual co-operation is also under way with a big project to update a local authority document that was compiled by SELECT in 2010 for the testing of domestic properties.
With 18th Edition regulatory changes and factors such as surge protection and arc fault detection to be considered, a decision was taken to provide an 18th Edition document for all members to use in the future.
LAF members will split up the original document to work on updating individual aspects of the guidance and will convene later in the new year to produce a new up-to-date document.
Andy said: “We’re always looking at product development and achieving best value for LAF members. At present, for instance, Fife Council is running a trial on Fire Angel products and a report will be submitted to the forum when it’s been completed.” Fife Council has already been instrumental in the development of a number of AICO products, such as the Ei414 RadioLINK+ Fire and Carbon Monoxide alarm interface, the Ei1529RC control switch and the SmartLINK Gateway – the Ei1000G. Fife Council is investigating trial sites for the SmartLINK Gateway and influenced the final product, ensuring Ei1000G facilitates the safety of tenants, aids compliance across housing stock and ensures ease of monitoring for Registered Social Landlords.
Andy added: “Going forward, renewable technologies in traditional and new build properties will take centre stage as councils strive to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency. With gas being phased out, battery storage, heat pumps, PV arrays and electric vehicle charging are under discussion, as well as the infrastructure that supports them.”
The LAF realises that it’s one thing to get its members excited about new products and developments but it’s quite a different situation when they return to their council and find they are stonewalled by finance. That’s why it encourages members to bring people with the purse strings to understand the issues and benefits of investing in different equipment – and appreciate the LAF’s collective buying power.
Andy said: “We encourage members to bring their accountants and surveyors.
“For instance, when we started fitting RCBOs in consumer units, the initial costs proved to be a bridge too far for several councils. But once forum members engaged with manufacturers, a competitive price for a consumer unit was identified which allowed authorities to budget for future installs.
“The latest challenge is the cost of incorporating surge protection and arc fault disconnection in consumer units. As this is not a legislative requirement, many local authorities feel the cost is prohibitive. The forum will engage with manufacturers to ensure best value.”
People are willing to share their knowledge and experience for the benefit of others
Change for the better
In partnership with the SELECT Electrotechnical Committee, the LAF is also persuasive in lobbying for change, and has made some progress with Scottish Power with regards to allowing council electricians to install isolators when fitting new consumer units in properties, as LAF member Sandy Mackintosh, Electrical Project Manager at Clackmannanshire Council, explained: “It’s been a bit of a bugbear with us for a while but we have been making progress to get Scottish Power to train our council operatives in carrying out this work ourselves.
“We were just about there and then COVID-19 came along, which put it on the back burner, so we are going to have to pick that up again soon.”
The LAF is recognised by Scottish Power as an important forum to tap into with issues regarding electrical supply, such as highlighting the issue of diverted neutral current (DNC). Last year they asked LAF members for assistance in testing for and reporting any deterioration of aluminium cable heads in properties that might lead to DNC.
When Sandy learned of the potential for DNC to cause problems last year at the LAF he took immediate action.
He explained: “We had an emergency meeting with our Service Leaders and organised toolbox talks with all our plumbing and gas engineers to explain the issues, and how the use of continuity clips would help them work safely. We even arranged for them to have training at Scottish Power’s training centre.”
This helped to prepare Sandy and his team when Clackmannanshire Council had an incident at Christmas when a power surge cut electricity to more than 200 homes, blowing fuses and damaging electrical appliances.
He added: “The forum has been invaluable to me, particularly as it gave me an insight into this DNC situation. When the reports came through of the power surge in Tillicoultry I knew what had happened and what to do.
“Out of our 5,000 Clackmannanshire Council homes we identified around 2,000 that have aluminium TNCS cables, so we have developed a programme of upgrades to their electrical boards with surge protection. In the forum’s ethos of sharing best practice, we will discuss this DNC event and share the solutions we came up with so that others can benefit from what we learned.”
What is the Local Authority Forum?
The Local Authority Forum for Electrical Best Practice was established to promote a shared approach to excellence in electrical standards. This would be achieved through sharing experience, developing ideas and resolving shared problems by applying best practice as a collective.
The Forum has a number of key objectives, including improving local authority service delivery mechanisms and the effectiveness of operatives. It believes this can be achieved through a consistent approach to working and the standardisation of documentation across all local authorities.
Its work has helped many local authorities in their aim to deliver best value consistently, a critical aspect of their operations given the economic climate and the government’s public sector spending review.
The Forum is hosted by SELECT at The Walled Garden and welcomes guest speakers from a wide cross section of the electrical industry.
Following the success of the Local Authority Forum, a second group was established in June 2010. Membership of these forums is free for all local authorities and both The Building Services Department Forum and the Engineers and Specifiers Forum meet quarterly.
To find out more about joining the LAF, email Yvonne Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org