This week’s letters

Skills plans must look to the future

The Government is inviting employers to put forward proposals for Sector
Skills Councils, which will replace the current NTO structure. SSCs will be
responsible for analysing and addressing a sector’s skills needs.

Unfortunately, the Government has turned down proposals for a local
government skills council (News, 8 January) and has instead suggested one
dedicated to public administration skills.

There are many skills issues in local government. Many authorities are
having difficulty recruiting staff in occupations such as social work and
environmental health. Better skills are essential to improving performance, and
rising to new challenges.

Nearly a third of local government staff are reaching retirement age and
there are few young people to replace them.

In suggesting a public administration skills council, the Government appears
to want to develop narrow, bureaucratic skills. In contrast, we in local
government want to attract and develop people who can help to modernise and
improve the sector with skills such as innovation, risk management and

We want to hear the views of others who are concerned with maximising the
potential of local government services through people development.

Joan Munro
Assistant director (people, skills and development), Employers’ Organisation
for Local Government

HR’s central role in police reform

Your article "Police force keeps watch on sector shake-up plans"
(Analysis, 8 January) makes an important point.

Translating the Government’s police reform plans – which include the broad
aims of increasing job flexibility and creating a fairer reward system – into
real improvements in service will be a major HR challenge.

Forces need a culture based on performance management and business benefits,
not one based on a paternalistic/welfare management style. The change must be
real. It is not enough for chief constables to support measures that junior
managers do not implement.

Some forces have already done a great deal to modernise their management
methods, but many do not understand that HR management requires strong
professional input at the top level and a strategic approach. Those that fail
to see this will simply create new bureaucracy and procedures to replace the

Most staff want change, but the entrenched culture of a few has defeated
previous attempts to modernise the management of the service and is in danger
of doing so again. HR professionals in the service need to make message loud
and clear to Government.

Mike Campbell
HR consultant (former director of corporate support, City of London Police)

Put in the work to gain the benefits

Recent coverage of HR outsourcing in the press suggests that it doesn’t
always deliver the pot of gold that was promised.

Over-emphasis on cost reduction – which is, after all, easy to measure – can
cause an organisation to overlook the other strategic benefits that can accrue.

Our experience is that outsourcing can radically reduce the cycle time of
core HR activities such as recruitment, learning and development, but these
improvements are often not built into the service level agreements at the outset.
The resulting productivity gains for line managers are rarely accounted for in
subsequent cost/benefit reviews.

There are also benefits to be gained from accessing the knowledge pool of
the outsourced supplier and in transferring risk to them. These are also rarely
quantified, but are of considerable strategic value.

There is also a strong cultural component that is often cited as a reason
for outsourcing, but which is overlooked when costings are done.

In some organisations, the rationale for outsourcing has been to encourage
managers to take on greater accountability for the management and development
of their people.

Does this appear on the balance sheet? It’s unlikely. If the original
business case looked at outsourcing from a balanced perspective, it would
feature as a major driver and be measured accordingly.

Outsourcing can be effective for organisations that consider every strategic
angle and are clear about the benefits that will be delivered.

Bob Arnold
Director of strategy and organisational effectiveness, Chiumento

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