It was with real disappointment that I read the headline and story ‘Council HR teams lack skills to deal with spending cut unrest’ (Personnel Today, 1 December 2009), and I bet I wasn’t the only one.
While I totally agree that industrial relations (IR) expertise and the ability to properly negotiate with unions and employees is a core skillset, it’s unfair to make a such a sweeping statement about local authority HR teams based upon the comments offered by a small sample of HR directors.
Personally, I’m in total agreement with Joanne Machers from Hartlepool Borough Council. Many councils, including my own, do possess IR and employee relations (ER) expertise and skill at various levels. Many councils have had to deal with really tough negotiations about equal pay in recent years. This has certainly pumped up the IR/ER ‘muscle’ in all concerned – especially when having to deal with no-win, no-fee lawyers as well as the trade unions. If we’ve made any error of judgement as senior HR professionals leading these functions in the past few years, it’s been to devalue IR/ER expertise in favour of more fashionable organisational development capability. Both have equal value, but are very different in emphasis. HR must possess both these ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills in equal measure for the future.
So let’s not unfairly malign or stereotype all council HR teams, and let’s instead work to ensure that these high demand core skills are present in sufficient supply for the hard times to come and beyond.
Stephen Moir, corporate director: people, policy and law, Cambridgeshire County Council