Failure to consult staff exposes public sector to risk of financial penalties

Public sector employers are risking big fines as well as costly delays by failing to consult with their staff about implementing shared HR functions, experts have warned.

A survey of 178 senior state-paid managers by law firm Browne Jacobson last week found that more workers were actively opposing the move to shared services than backing them.

The 2004 Gershon Review shaped a government policy of public sector bodies sharing back-office departments such as HR and IT to save billions of pounds.

But managers told Browne Jacobson that while 23% of their workforces supported the moves, 36% opposed them.

Ray Silverstein, partner at Browne Jacobson, said: “Getting staff engagement for shared services is often seen to be like getting turkeys to vote for Christmas.”

Just 35% of managers polled said they were concerned about falling foul of the TUPE [staff transfer] regulations when transferring employee rights to implement a shared back-office service.

“This is striking,” said Silverstein. “All too often employers are considering the financial aspects of transformation first and not thinking about employees until the 11th hour.

“Failure to comply with collective consultation and disclosure obligations could result in financial penalties.”

Siobhan Coughlan, principal consultant at the Improvement and Development Agency, told Personnel Today that workforce opposition had dramatically slowed attempts to streamline back office functions.

“Workforce opposition is a barrier,” she said. “We under-estimate the communication needed and plough along until we hit the barrier – which may be the threat of industrial action – and then we have to unpick and go back and start again to properly consult staff.”

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