HR’s pivotal role in public service reform

The
Work Foundation is urging the Government to tread carefully when considering
job cuts and to use the expertise of HR to make sure things go smoothly as it
reforms the public services, reports Quentin Reade

The
Work Foundation is urging the Government to give “careful consideration” to the
recommendations in the Gershon Review as the public sector looks set to undergo
its biggest change programme in a generation.

Due
this week, Sir Peter Gershon’s report was commissioned by chancellor Gordon
Brown two years ago to investigate possible efficiency savings across the
public services – including restructuring the workforce.

In
a new report, The Work Foundation research and advisory organisation notes that
the efficiency programme will lead to significant reductions in staffing. And
added to the recommendations in the separate Lyons Review, there will be a need
to relocate some public services outside London.

Author
of The Work Foundation report, David Coats, said: “Taken together with the
merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, this will be the most
significant restructuring of public services for a generation.”

He
agrees that efficiency savings are essential to deliver additional resources to
the front line and says “this is a sensible approach given the fiscal
constraints”.

However,
the Work Foundation believes that delivering the Gershon objectives will
require a major effort from HR.

“There
are some significant practical problems in the path of the efficiency
objectives that need to be cleared if public services are to deliver the
improvements desired by the chancellor,” says Coats.

In
particular:


HR policies and strategies are often not aligned with organisational goals and
many operational managers have poor HR skills


Unless handled carefully there could be significant industrial relations
problems in the future


Much more attention needs to be given to motivating the employees who remain
following a redundancy programme. This embraces questions of public sector pay
and the creation of greater opportunities for promotion or career development.

The
Work Foundation also believes that to successfully deliver the efficiency
programme the Government must look at:


A better alignment between organisational goals and operational policies and
strategies.


Building management capacity – particularly in the fields of procurement and HR.


Forging a more constructive relationship with public service unions.


Developing more sophisticated measures of public service productivity and
performance.

If
the HR function is slimmed down, operational managers will have to take
responsibility for wider range of functions. Coats notes that “once again, this
demands a proper assessment of the managerial skills base and the need for
investment in training and development so that operational managers are
properly equipped to handle HR issues”.

He
adds: “Perhaps the biggest challenge for public service employers is to
motivate those employees remaining following the planned staffing reductions.
This means the Government cannot avoid considering how to rebuild the implicit
contract between public service organisations and the workforce. The Government
needs a public service employee relations agenda that is consistent with this
goal.”

The
Work Foundations asks:


How can public service employees be given a sense of pride in their work?


What is it about working in public services that engenders a sense of
self-respect and a belief that individuals will be respected by their
colleagues and their managers?


How can public services accommodate the desire for people to ‘get on’ at
work?  In other words, what
opportunities should be available for training, development and promotion?

The
Work Foundation report concludes that the Government needs to make some tough
choices about public spending. It says: “Industrial relations issues must be
handled sensitively so that the programme is not deflected by a rising tide of
disputes with trade unions.

“It
is essential that more attention be given to the public service employment package.  The stakes are high, particularly because
the Government faces a more challenging political and economic environment.

“Delivering
the Gershon objectives is not an impossible undertaking, but it is
challenging,” says Coats. “Whether this challenge can be met will test the
capabilities of ministers, public service employers and trade unions.”

Where
staffing cuts are likely:


DWP – reducing headcount by the equivalent of 40,000 full-time posts by 2008.


A single tax department to be created by merging the Inland Revenue/Customs and
Excise, leading to a net reduction of 40,500 jobs by 2008.


DfES – reducing headcount by 31 per cent by 2008, a net reduction of 1,460
jobs.


DoH – reducing headcount by 38 per cent or 1,400 jobs by 2008.

It
is suggested that ‘normal staff turnover’ should be used to manage headcount
reductions. Nevertheless, there will inevitably be some redundancies.

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