HR finds itself back under the soptlight

Anyone working in Civil Service HR will be feeling trapped and in a no-win
situation following Gordon Brown’s decision last week to axe more than 40,000
public sector jobs.

As we predicted last month, HR is not only in the frontline of the jobs to
go but will be responsible for making the people changes necessary to deliver
£20bn in efficiency savings in the next four years.

The chancellor and his government have no direct experience of cutting out
waste on this scale but HR certainly does, so the wretched task is in the hands
of the right people.

This political card has been well played by Brown. He’s made promises about
public sector spending that the Conservatives would struggle to reverse and
he’s pinched their clothes as the champion of the taxpayer.

Inevitably, the unions see the cuts as more to do with pre-election fever
than the Government acting as a responsible employer. And they have a point –
where was the consultation with the workforce before the announcement was made?

While it’s early days, it looks as if technology will replace many
back-office posts. Civil Service HR is likely to be automated and centralised
with more sharing of resources.

There has been huge expansion of the public sector payroll in the last few
years, so the numbers do look ridiculous. But while it may be easy to get rid
of bureaucrats who push paper around, it is more difficult to wipe out whole
teams involved in dragging central government into the 21st century.

Many senior HR managers have been at the heart of the strategy for
organisational change and it would be a tragedy if some of this talent and
effort were lost in the culling. Some of the major cultural shifts that
Whitehall has already pulled off in a bid to improve public services would not
have been possible without highly effective HR working behind the scenes.

This is a major test of the Government’s resolve and there are many who
doubt whether it is achievable. Once again, it’s a goal which puts HR firmly in
the hot seat, and it will be a fascinating story to follow.

By Jane King, editor

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