Single Whitehall HR strategy welcomed by Austerity Panel

A single HR strategy across Whitehall could help to professionalise HR functions, remove outdated policies and practices and free up HR to support staff – but it must be flexible enough to meet individual department needs, according to Personnel Today’s HR Austerity Panel.

On Monday, the government revealed a new Efficiency and Reform Group would look to implement a single HR policy to cover the separate Whitehall HR functions in a bid to remove duplication. This policy is intended to be introduced by March 2012.

Graham White, HR director of Westminster City Council, described it as a “long-awaited proposal that should have happened a number of years ago”.

“We have multiple groups of professionals, technicians and administrators operating in very similar environments, and unifying their HR functions, policy and strategy will bring nothing but benefits, cost savings, efficiencies and greater operating effectiveness,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity not only for the most productive policies and processes to be shared across the whole Civil Service, but also to get rid of those inappropriate and outdated practices that have no place in a 21st century organisation. If that means stamping out some inappropriate or overly generous benefits, then that can only be for the greater good.”

Sian Thomas, former NHS HR director and chief executive of membership organisation Synuron, said the Efficiency and Reform Group could provide a way of professionalising HR in the Civil Service – “instead of career civil servants doing these jobs”.

“It could mean a better way to redeploy people and a better way to have career development. Also we could go further and share leadership development and graduate employment,” she said. “The public probably think that all civil service posts are subject to the same conditions anyway.”

But Thomas cautioned against “ending up with a huge HR department with even more people in it” as a result of the single policy.

Richard Crouch, head of HR and organisational development at Somerset County Council, predicted that HR jobs could go, but added that the new policy would provide greater opportunities to innovate and better support employees.

“If processes themselves are streamlined, this will allow HR staff to be released and redirected to support employees better in, say, an advisory or re-skilling capacity to support, say, productivity gains,” he said.

Dean Shoesmith, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, welcomed the “clarity of direction and consistency of approach”, but warned the single policy would have to be flexible enough to meet the needs of different departments.

“Such a strategy will need to be sufficiently agile to allow for a local, departmental, approach to address departmental people management issues,” he said.

Duncan Brown, director of HR business development at the Institute for Employment Studies, shared this concern that HR functions could end up losing their ability to meet the specific needs of individual departments.

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