Council HR body is set to increase its influence

Francesca
Okosi talks exclusively to Personnel Today about the challenges ahead for the
Society of Chief Personnel Officers and outlines how a new qualification and
improved alliances will spearhead the organisation’s modernisation plans,
by Paul Nelson

The
continual restructuring of public services will see a radical overhaul of local
government HR body the Society of Chief Personnel Officers (Socpo) next year.

Socpo’s
ambitious change agenda includes launching a local government professional
qualification in HR, a possible merger with its Scottish equivalent and
entering into strategic partnerships with the Government, unions, employer
groups and public sector bodies.

New
qualification

Socpo
president Francesca Okosi said the organisation had approached academic
institutes, including Warwick University and Henley Management College, to
accredit and facilitate its HR in local government qualification. It is being
adapted from the course run by the American public sector HR body, the
International Personnel Managers Association.

Okosi
told Personnel Today the qualification was central to Socpo’s strategy of
increasing its membership.

The
society expects to start offering the qualification in 12 months and aims to
extend it to include an HR public sector qualification in due course, with NHS
counterparts The Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management (AHHRM)
already expressing an interest.

The
qualification will be module-based, focusing on organisational development,
leadership and making HR strategic.

Okosi
said the qualification would probably take between 18 months and two years to
complete, and it will not involve technical HR skills, as students should have
already learned these from the CIPD’s qualification.

Socpo
is having discussions with the CIPD about sponsoring and/or supporting the
course.

"I
want to have a comprehensive career development planner (CDP) so we can begin
to form a career structure in local government and members can really further
their careers. It is my baby and I intend to see it through to the end,"
Okosi said.

Socpo
will launch the qualification to members at its annual conference in Brighton
next March, a year after Personnel Today exclusively revealed the project.

The
qualification will be split into three parts for senior, middle and junior HR
professionals in local government.

Senior
HR professionals will be taught leadership skills, while middle managers will
learn about organisational development, equality and diversity, workforce
planning, and how to operate in a political environment. Junior professionals
will receive employment law training and be involved in shadowing and mentoring
schemes.

Okosi
believes it is vital to develop the young HR professional’s skills and
knowledge of local government to help them further their careers in the sector.
The mentoring scheme will enable them to work in all four council types:
metropolitan, county, district and unitary.

Membership
drive

Okosi
sees the qualification as vital in enabling Socpo to attract young people to
the organisation and increase its size and power.

Last
year, the organisation outlined its aim to increase its membership ten-fold to
5,000 by 2006, through opening up its membership – usually confined to senior
managers – to all local government HR professionals. But 18 months on,
membership has only increased by 150 to around 600 people.

Okosi
believes the main reason is that, without the introduction of the
qualification, Socpo does not have much to offer to lower and middle-ranking HR
professionals.

"If
we are going to get the numbers that we want, then without a doubt we are going
to have to do it on the back of the CPD," she said. "A lot of our
members come from district councils where money is tight, and at the moment
there is not enough to offer them.

"For
authorities or individuals to pay, we will have to give them more than
employment law updates – such as the chance to enhance their skills.

"The
5,000 in five years might have been over-optimistic, [but] if we can double or
treble the current number, then we will have done well," she said.

Increasing
influence

To
increase HR’s voice and political influence with local councils and at national
government level, Socpo is hoping to form strategic partnerships with other
organisations, including a possible merger with its sister body, The Society of
Personnel Directors in Scotland (SPDS).

"There
is only so much that an organisation of 600 people can do, as we all have
full-time jobs. So we have decided to work in strategic partnerships with other
organisations, including the Employers’ Organisation and AHHRM, and decide who
is going to take the lead on issues and we can participate."

Okosi
said a new UK-wide local government HR body would have a different name and
should be formed in around a year.

"I
think we [Socpo and SPDS] feel there is a missing part of the jigsaw, meaning
that we would be even more powerful if we represented the whole of the UK."

Keen
to increase Socpo’s influence on national government policy, Okosi is
determined to resurrect its strategic partnership with AHHRM by including the
Association of Directors in Social Services (ADSS).

Last
May, the two public sector HR bodies announced they would form closer ties.
They aimed to work closer together on professional development, benchmarking,
staff secondments and research, because they felt the CIPD did not support HR
professionals in the public sector.

But
with two president changes at both organisations, the link-up has fallen down the
agenda. Two joint conferences have been cancelled due to a lack of member
interest.

"The
ADSS is the missing link. If we can bring the three of us together, then we
have a real common agenda with there being more and more mergers going on at
local level between health authorities, PCTs [Primary Care Trusts] and parts of
the social services," said Okosi. "Getting ADSS involved is the
missing link between social services, health and ourselves."

New
AHHRM president Elaine Way told Personnel Today that her organisation is
committed to the partnership and would explore ways of taking it forward.

Links
with unions are also to be formalised. Okosi has meetings planned with Unison
and T&G local government representatives and hopes to announce significant
progress at Socpo’s annual conference next March.

"Socpo
presidents on a one-to-one basis have had good relationships with the unions’
bosses, but never at a formal level," she said.

In
her last four months as Socpo’s president, Okosi wants to focus on increasing
the number of women progressing to senior positions in local government as she
is is alarmed that the number of women at a senior level – particularly that of
chief executive – is actually decreasing.

Socpo
is to set up brainstorming sessions with the Equal Opportunities Commission
that could lead to research into local government’s glass ceiling.

Okosi
believes that the politicians and the recruitment agencies opinions on what
makes a good leader needs to be updated, while the experiences of other senior
women may put middle managers off applying.  www.socpo.org.uk

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