Council HR job cuts could exceed 10%

Local government HR departments are set to face job cuts in excess of the 10% expected for councils across the board, employment experts have warned.

Earlier this week, a survey by the BBC found one in 10 council jobs could be cut over the next five years as local authorities struggle to meet budget pressures.

But experts told Personnel Today that, with the priority being to protect front-line services, back-office functions such as HR should expect to see a higher percentage of job cuts.

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “One would expect that HR might do relatively worse than some other functions because it’s a back-office function and back-office functions generally seem to be the ones that are being mentioned [for cuts].”

Philpott refused to predict what level of council HR job cuts could be seen, but said: “I would say think in terms of one in 10, and if it turns out to be that then that’s probably getting off reasonably. One might expect it to be proportionally higher in a back-office function, mainly because that’s where a lot of the attention will be placed.

“It’s pretty clear that there’s quite a lot of scope for improvements in efficiency and rationalisation in back-office functions,” Philpott added. “You could probably trim some HR roles out without the public noticing in terms of service quality. So one would expect that to be an area that will be adversely affected.”

Gillian Hibberd, president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association and HR director of Buckinghamshire County Council – which is cutting 400 jobs over the next three years – agreed with Philpott, suggesting that the 10% figure for council job cuts was “entirely feasible”, and warning that this could rise for HR.

“I think there are some parts of the organisation that certainly have a higher risk, and back-office functions including HR are some of the obvious ones,” she said. “Local government will want to protect front-line services as much as possible, so there certainly will be a lot of change around for HR.”

But Patrick Nolan, chief economist at think-tank Reform, insisted that the “majority” of job cuts should hit the front line because it is more expensive than the back office.

“There’s this myth that so much of the cost is being wasted in back-office functions – actually, when you really look at the numbers, you see that most of the costs are actually on the front line,” he said. “It’s front-line staffing costs that make up the major costs of public services, and that’s where we need to look for savings.”

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