HR must tackle performance to deal with Whitehall budget cuts

Public sector HR chiefs must improve performance management and look at best practice from other sectors to help deal with forthcoming budget cuts, experts have warned.

The call follows the release of a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report this week, which attacked front-line management in the public sector for being “sporadic and often inadequate [in] quality”, resulting in high levels of absence and an inability to tackle poor performance.

Compared with the private sector, public sector employers are three times less likely to discipline staff; rate their line managers’ conflict management skills more poorly; and take far longer to manage formal disciplinary and grievance cases, the CIPD warned. “It is not the impending fiscal crunch that poses the greatest threat to public service delivery, but a related people management crisis on the front line,” the institute said.

Alan Downey, head of public sector at professional services firm KPMG, warned that, with job losses across central and local government “inevitable”, employers needed to address performance management issues urgently.

“When you run a redundancy programme, it has to be fair and effective,” he told Personnel Today. “If you have an efficient performance management system, it is much easier to be fair and lawful. Without one, you have no basis on which to choose people, beyond things such as ‘last in, first out’.”

Andy Robling, public services director at recruitment firm Hays, claimed public sector chief executives were unprepared for budget cuts and “uneasy” about how they would deliver services in the years ahead.

Public sector managers are not prepared for budget cuts…

16% thought their organisations had the resources to manage a reduced budget in 2010.

69% believe the private sector will have “an increasing role” in helping the public sector meet its obligations.

63% agreed they were encouraged to look outside the public sector for solutions to their management and delivery problems.

35% believe their leadership training programmes are ineffective or not available to them.

Source: Hays

A Hays survey of 1,200 public sector employees published this week revealed that just 16% of managers and 12% of junior staff believed their organisations had the resources to manage a reduced budget in 2010 (see box, left, for other findings).

More than one in 10 managers (13%) did not believe their organisation had a clear strategy in place to cope with the challenge of offering more services with fewer resources.

“More could be done across the country in anticipation of the cuts, particularly in terms of sharing best practice between sectors,” said Robling. “It really is a given that if you bring people in with different experiences, they are more likely to see where efficiencies could be made.”

Dean Shoesmith, joint HR director of Sutton and Merton councils and vice-president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA), said he was “not in denial about the issues raised”.

He added: “HR needs to be a strategic guide on the service delivery model, managing change, and TUPE transfers, as well as developing toolkits for managers on issues such as shared services.”

However, Shoesmith suggested that CIPD research methodology was too narrow, and issued a public request for the institute to involve the PPMA in future reports on the public sector.

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