This week’s letters

Gershon report has a limited portrayal of public sector HR

In relation to the Gershon report (24 February, page 1), and as someone who
has almost exclusively worked in the public sector, the report doesn’t reflect
HR practice in the wider public sector, such as local government, the police
and the NHS.

Within the public sector, a range of performance measures/metrics are
applied nationally, regionally and locally as part of a robust
performance-management regime which, for example, requires local authority HR
functions to review costs against staff numbers. It also compares a range of
other indicators, such as investment in staff training, and the management of
sickness absence.

All the current evidence provided via a range of professional bodies, such
as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Society
of Personnel Officers in Government (Socpo), prove effective HR management
leads to an effective workforce and better performance.

The various inspection regimes, such as comprehensive performance assessment
(CPA), ‘best value’ and the Government’s own inspection teams, such as Ofsted
and HMIC, also recognise the importance of HR in delivering better services.
The proposals are entirely at odds with the Accounting for People Taskforce
report, and the value HR can add to businesses.

I also contest David Samuell’s assertion that public sector HR departments
are bigger, and don’t work strategically across various functions.

HR’s role in local government is about being a strategic business partner,
which often means dealing with a larger, more diverse workforce than many
private sector employers. Samuell may be confusing the fact that public sector
HR often includes training and development, health and safety and occupational
health staff, and not just ‘HR’ people.

Stephen Moir
Head of HR, South Tyneside Council

People management is key to better work

With regard to the Gershon report (24 February, page 1), the outcome of the
first round of comprehensive performance assessment, the Pay and Workforce
Strategy and Pay Commission Report and our own research, all point to the vital
role of people management in the improvement process. We need to build HR
capacity to support this process. However, much of the ‘processing’ in HR and
payroll can be reduced by the effective use of information, communication and
technologies, and the development of e-HR approaches. Some of this work can be
outsourced very effectively.

Smaller local authorities could provide these services, which would also
permit the employment of higher-level HR staff with some of the skills
currently in short supply.

Lack of control over processes – through badly-written contracts or
partnership agreements, for example – can prevent authorities carrying out
strategic management functions properly. The in-house team needs to know
exactly what it will get from outsourced or shared services.

Rob Pinkham
Deputy executive director, Employers’ Organisation for local government

Time voluntary firms got a brand new look

The Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) is a voluntary organisation with
more than a 65-year track record, 95,000 volunteers, 2,500 staff and, if we are
honest, a rather quaint and cosy image. It needs to change if it is to get a
key position in an increasingly competitive world.

We need to win more contracts from local authorities and NHS trusts; we
should compete for funds rather than rely on Government funding, and attract
new volunteers from diverse backgrounds, while keeping our valued volunteers
motivated and enthused. We have to deliver the best service against competition
from commercial agencies, and we should be more vocal about the issues
affecting our clients.

The guiding principles of change management apply to the voluntary sector as
much as the private sector, and include building a strong benefits case and a
compelling picture of the future, and giving staff the confidence to succeed in
their new world.

Winning hearts and minds may be an old adage, but in today’s world of
choice, it is more relevant that ever. WRVS is a people organisation facing
change, which can be unsettling, but it should be set as an expectation and
part of the contract for which our staff are paid.

Communication and consultation is essential. Both staff and volunteers must
understand the reasons for change and, most importantly, the benefits. Our
programme, Capturing the Spirit, consults with volunteers about how to express
the essence of what WRVS does, and regular ‘TalkBack’ sessions give volunteers
the chance to speak to the chief executive, directors and managers and have
their voices heard. Cascading communication means staff learn of changes
face-to-face from team managers, a familiar contact with whom they have a
relationship of trust.

Change can threaten these valued relationships. We have to get it right to take
our volunteers with us on the change journey and attract new ones along the
way. Getting it wrong will lose our greatest asset.

Jane Comben
Director for people, WRVS

Equal pay audits will soon be mandatory

Despite the recent media attention and exhortations from Government, the
Equal Opportunities Commission and trade unions to address inequities in pay
practices, employers are still shunning equal pay audits (HR Hartley, 24

Equal pay remains firmly in the ‘much too difficult’ box, and just getting
the basics in place to undertake an audit is an uphill battle. There is also
the fear of the implications of an audit on pay bills.

Equally though, pay auditing is not necessarily about paying people the same
for doing the same job. It is about understanding and justifying why you pay
them differently. Shouldn’t those who contribute more to an organisation be
rewarded for that effort? Doesn’t supply and demand dictate that market forces
will ensure some jobs command higher salaries than others? Can anyone argue
that Premiership footballers have the same job size as chief executives of
major plcs? Yet they earn similar salaries because of what the market will pay
for their particular skills.

If the gender gap in pay continues, it is only a matter of time before an
equal pay audit becomes mandatory. Legal action by a worker is costly,
time-consuming, reputation-damaging and stressful for employers. An equal pay
audit will offer reassurance to those already demonstrating robust practice. It
can also be a catalyst for less sophisticated employers to work with their
trade unions or staff representatives to develop a more coherent reward policy
to reduce the risk of equal pay claims.

Being a fair employer is good for business. And what’s more, the predicted
significant UK skills shortage should be inspiring organisations to introduce
consistent and defensible pay policies which help them to respond to the new
‘sellers market’ in skills and talent.

Jane Phillipson
Associate director, Hay Group

CIPD barriers are all there for a purpose

The cost of obtaining Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
(CIPD) qualifications has been discussed in your columns.

There are two important issues. First is the comparison of the costs of
getting CIPD membership with the costs of obtaining any other professional
qualification. If you want a qualification as an accountant or a solicitor, the
costs are considerably higher. Admittedly, HR doesn’t pay as much, but we must
at least aim to bring our professional standards to those levels.

And any profession has barriers to entry. They are necessary to maintain
wage rates at an appropriate level. In HR, the barriers include the difficulty
of obtaining a professional role in HR, and the costs and work involved in
obtaining professional qualifications. It is in the interests of both the CIPD
and existing members that those barriers are in place – if anything, they
should be raised.

Unfortunately for those seeking entry to the profession, there is a price to
be paid, but it is hoped that it is worth paying. Investment in your own human
capital is always a difficult decision, but it is necessary for both the
individual and the profession. Studies have shown that obtaining a professional
HR qualification does tend to lead to a higher salary. It’s rather a case of
bread today, in the hope of jam tomorrow.

Ian Davidson
Details supplied

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