Positive thinking at the CPS

HR director Angela O’Connor is set to continue transforming the Crown Prosecution Service’s image by eradicating racism and negativity from its workforce.

When Angela O’Connor joined the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as HR director in June 2002, she was under no illusions as to the size of the task that lay ahead of her.

Only a year before, the government department responsible for prosecuting people in England and Wales had admitted to being institutionally racist, and had serious problems with staff and public perception.

A week before she started the job, O’Connor read the results of that year’s staff survey. She deemed the report as “probably the most negative document” she had ever read.

“I decided to go out into the organisation and see for myself what was real and what wasn’t,” she said.

She spent her first six months in the job visiting staff across the country and spending time with senior management to get their perceptions of the organisation. “My own view [of the organisation] was that it didn’t reflect at all what I was reading in the survey. People saw the CPS as a male, stale and pale organisation and not representative of the public,” she said. “Actually, it’s a very diverse organisation on the frontline.”

O’Connor also began to emphasise to employees and potential new recruits the breadth of work available at the CPS and within the public sector as a whole.

“The market we’re often recruiting from is the private sector. We can’t compete on salary, but we can make a difference in quality of life, and we have tried to get that across in our advertising and internal communication,” she said.

O’Connor has instigated a number of in-house schemes that aim to develop and support the 7,700 staff at the CPS. One of the most successful has been the law scholarship scheme, which funds people through education and training to becoming prosecutors.

“Competition for places is crazy,” said O’Connor. “We’ve had more than 300 people on the scheme, and some who started in admin are now qualified prosecutors.”

Improvements in the transparency of its recruitment processes led the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to lift its investigation into the CPS last year, and O’Connor said that the organisation now maintains a “good, positive relationship” with the body.

“We have now got a race equality scheme that has been cited by the CRE as a model of best practice. We have good BME [black and minority ethnic] representation at senior levels, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”

So, while it seems that the CPS has transformed itself in the two years O’Connor has been in charge of HR, she admits there is still a long way to go.

“There is so much interest in our work and the cases our people are involved in – the CPS is in the papers nearly every day,” she said.

“But you can’t be successful without your people supporting the business. Everyone thinks they can ‘do’ people, but they can’t. HR is an incredibly important profession.”


O’Connor’s CV

2002 HR director, CPS

1999 Head of HR, London Borough of Enfield

1988 Head of HR, London Borough of Hackney

1983 Personnel manager, London Borough of Haringey

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