new president of local government HR body Socpo outlines her plans to widen the
society’s membership, develop its relationship with the CIPD and equip HR
leaders to get on to the board
Local government HR body Society of Chief Personnel Officers (Socpo) must
"punch its weight" for the sector’s HR profession in the
modernisation of public services, said its president-elect.
Mary Mallett, who will be unveiled as the institute’s president at its
annual conference in Brighton tomorrow, has ambitious plans for Socpo’s future.
Her agenda includes increasing Socpo’s influence through widening the
society’s membership and opening its first headquarters. She also plans to develop
strategic partnerships, work more closely with the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development (CIPD) and help equip HR professionals to sit at the
Mallett, strategic director (organisation and development) at Kent County
Council, believes Socpo can play a central role in modernising public services
by improving links between local and central government.
Socpo has been invited to join the Public Sector Employers’ Forum and has
had high-level discussions with the Government’s Public Service Reform Advisory
Last week, Personnel Today exclusively revealed that Socpo is to allow civil
service HR professionals to join the society (News, 4 March).
"We have so much in common due to the modernisation agenda. We both
deliver public services that are often very sensitive, such as child
protection, benefits and immigration," Mallett said.
Mallett thinks the similarity between central and local government is one of
the main reasons for Socpo seeing a number of its senior members cross over to
the civil service in recent years – including its departing president Francesca
Okosi, director of organisation change at government environmental agency
Socpo is entering into strategic partnership with local government chief
executive body the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) and is
taking part in two joint conferences in June on organisational development.
Mallett believes chief executives have woken up to the importance of HR in
delivering quality services. She says now is the perfect time to cement
relations between the two bodies, as her boss at Kent County Council – Mike
Pitt – is president of Solace.
Pitt is to address this week’s Socpo conference on HR’s role in local
"Chief executives have really twigged that good leadership and HR is
what really gets them the gong. Solace invited us along to a Downing Street
meeting about public sector reform and have done some very good research on
what it is like to be a chief executive at a local authority."
Socpo and local government IT group the Society of IT Managers (SOCITM) are
going to form closer ties.
Mallett said: "Self-service HR is huge, and we [HR professionals] end
up having to create it, invent it and deal with the people issues, while SOCITM
has the product knowledge. We would be daft not to see the benefits."
She said Socpo is in talks with other public sector bodies over tentative
plans to share headquarters and administration.
Socpo has never had a headquarters, but Mallett believes it must have a
base, as its membership is increasing from the current 600.
Socpo is also set to merge with its Scottish equivalent, the Society of
Personnel Directors in Scotland. Its president, Hogan Burke, is this year’s
conference special guest – and Socpo has opened up membership from senior HR
professionals to all personnel officers in the sector. Additionally, in 2002,
Personnel Today revealed that Socpo and the Association of Healthcare Human
Resource Management (AHHRM) are to revive their partnership by incorporating
the Association of Directors in Social Service.
Socpo is to make the most of these partnerships by introducing an
"active fringe" at next year’s annual conference, which will include
senior professionals from local government, education, social services and IT.
Improved relations with the CIPD are also central to Mallett’s presidency.
When Socpo announced its tie up with AHHRM two years ago, it cited a lack of
support from the CIPD as a major factor.
Mallett has set about changing that, and has held high-level discussions
with the CIPD’s assistant director-general, Duncan Brown.
Socpo has persuaded the CIPD to incorporate a public sector perspective in
its work and invited the CIPD to a Cabinet Office public service reform
meeting. The two bodies are planning joint research projects and Brown is to
address this year’s Socpo conference.
"The tendency of the CIPD has been to operate with the private sector,
but I think Brown has realised that the public sector and local government are
gaps in its work: around a fifth – 20,000 – of its members are in the public
sector," she said.
Mallett is in the process of producing a best practice HR database centred
on the recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment – which ranked councils’
services and employer standards. A group of 18 HR directors from excellent and
weak councils has been formed to share experiences, and a report will be
published in April.
Mallett is also demanding that HR in local government becomes more
business-focused. She thinks improved performance management would increase the
opportunity for HR to sit on a company’s main board.
She believes HR must be at the forefront of driving a culture of performance
management in the delivery of local government services.
"I still think that you will find happy little HR teams doing
inductions, recruitment and training when an authority’s real problem might be
education. It would be better putting everything into education to sort that
out," she said.
"A lot of personnel people are not focused, they do not have an
all-hands-on-deck mentality. The best do, but most totter around in the
background doing what they have always done."
Mallett believes a service-focused HR profession deserves its place on the
She explained: "Board-level HR is being bunched with IT, finance and
other areas to create these corporate resource jobs. I want HR to storm in and
get those roles. Where the organisation is brave enough to have an HR director
on the board, I want to make sure they can handle the business."
By Paul Nelson
2003 Socpo president
1999 Strategic director (organisation and development) at Kent
1995 Director of personnel and organisation at Birmingham
1993 County personnel director at Hereford and Worcester County
1989 Head of personnel and administration (education) at
Hereford and Worcester County Council
1987 Senior personnel officer at the BBC (news and current
1985 Personnel officer (programmes) at the BBC