The HR function as we know it is in rapid decline across local government, with further job cuts scheduled across the country.
Last week councils nationwide announced scores of positions across management and back-office functions must go, following pressure to cut budgets accelerated by the credit crunch.
In city councils, Newcastle plans to cut 500 jobs, including 200 management posts a further 400 jobs will go in Nottingham and Bristol Oldham is set to shed up to 544 posts and in the counties, 400 jobs are to go in Buckinghamshire, while 800 Northumberland staff are considering voluntary redundancy.
Graham White, HR director at Westminster City Council – itself set to cut 200 jobs – claimed HR staff should acknowledge that other professionals could do their job “faster and better”.
The HR function at Westminster had already streamlined itself over the past year, cutting 20 full-time posts to 15, and the latest cuts would mainly affect the layers of management at the council. But White admitted every position, including HR, would be scrutinised.
“For a long time, HR has had to wake up to the realisation that it doesn’t have a long-term future as a large, top-heavy department. Research shows what HR does can be done by others much faster and better,” he told Personnel Today.
“Organisations need to see the benefit of a small powerhouse of HR support,” he added, with line managers taking on most of the ‘HR’ work, including recruitment, reward and performance.
This would present huge challenges, he said, as it would mean people overseeing the demise of their own department.
The Local Government Association warned HR could face troubling times. “HR is a back-office function and jobs will be identified as being surplus to requirements,” a spokesman said.
The chief executive at Bristol City Council, Jan Ormondroyd, said: “Like many other organisations, we’re looking at [some] HR to move across to shared services. There is scope for some efficiencies, and that means fewer people.”
Michael Hopwood, assistant head of organisational development at Newcastle City Council, warned councils to develop “fundamental new ways of delivering business”. Few of the planned redundancies would come from HR, he said, but he conceded that career paths for HR professionals were becoming “restricted”.
Local Government Association viewpoint: The changing HR profession
“Long-term changes in the HR marketplace are massive,” according to the LGA. While the function’s short-term focus may be negotiating redundancy packages and helping staff find new work, there was still scope for the role of the HR professional to change, a spokesman told Personnel Today.
Last week the Monster Employment index warned that demand for HR jobs was at an all-time low.
The LGA warned any savvy HR professional to re-skill, to be ready for the employment market. “Anyone in any back-office function these days needs to look at planning their [career future]. Recruitment specialists are now losing their jobs. There are people on the jobs market now with huge qualifications.”
However, because of the pace of change, the LGA urged people to gain skills that will still be relevant in five years time, such as workforce planning, or training and development.