Public Sector HR jobs could be under serious threat after a leaked
government report showed plans for a transformation in the way public services
The interim Gershon report, leaked last week to the Financial Times,
estimates that 80,000 civil service jobs could be cut as part of an efficiency
review, with HR one of the first in the firing line.
Gershon claims that the public sector typically spends two to three times
more per employee on HR, a number that rises to six times as much in some
central government departments.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said that more
than a quarter of its membership worked in the public services, amounting to at
least 29,000 HR staff. In the health service alone, there are 7,000 HR
The report wants procedures simplified, standardised, shrunk and shared,
with government departments put into ‘clusters’ that could share services.
This would result in a change from generalist roles to more specialist
cross-departmental HR teams.
David Samuell, public sector director at HR consultancy DBM, said HR
departments in public services were much bigger than in private business and
that it was not part of their culture to work strategically across different
Jonathan Werran, director of public sector consultancy Governetz, agreed
there was a significant duplication of effort, which was slowing down HR’s
ability to adapt to modern trends such as e-HR.
However, the Gershon report’s recommendations also call for a mass
redeployment and retraining of staff and the need to mitigate against the
‘human and financial costs of redundancy’.
The HR profession has voiced concerns that shrinking the HR function is
incompatible with government productivity targets and the practical
implications of dealing with an unprecedented shift in personnel.
Mike Emmott, head of employee relations at the CIPD, said that performance
indicators alone would not drive performance, adding that HR was essential for
effective people management.
"Changes of this order would need more HR, not less," he said.
Conservatives plan jobs freeze
It looks like recruitment in the public services will be in for
a rough ride whoever is in power following the country’s next general election.
The day after Gershon’s interim report was leaked, the
Conservative Party vowed to make massive cuts in the Civil Service and to
impose a recruitment freeze on Whitehall.
An instant stop on Civil Service recruitment, across the board for
two years, is part of Tory plans to save £35bn a year by 2011.
Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin said the freeze would apply to
the Civil Service alone and would not affect recruitment to other jobs, such as
nurses or teachers.
Feedback from the professionals on the Gershon report
Stephen Bevan, director of research at the Work Foundation
Bevan said [the Gershon] review, and others before it, show that the way the
Government handles employee relations will be the key to the success of the
reforms. He said those involved in changes would have to look very carefully at
which HR roles they do and do not need. "The [employee relations] issue
will eclipse all the others," he said. "HR plays an important part in
bringing about changes. It would be very shortsighted to make big cuts in HR –
it will have to be heavily involved in managing the changes in employees
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services
The union is firmly opposed to job cuts on the scale recommended by Gershon,
calling it "a real kick in the teeth". "This is an extraordinary
attack on the civil service," Serwotka said. "Any job losses on this
scale are completely unacceptable. The Government should be defending and
improving frontline services. We are worried that cuts on this scale are likely
to damage delivery of key government services."
He said that last week’s strike of 90,000 civil servants was because of
"appalling" pay offers by the Department of Work and Pensions and
"an unacceptable performance appraisal system".
Jonathan Werran, director of consultancy for public sector consultancy,
Werran sees a lot of room for change in HR in the public service and said
"serious streamlining" could bring HR in line with other, more
strategic functions. "There is a significant duplication of efforts in
public sector HR," he claimed. "It has been slower to adapt to new
advances such as e-HR; some [practitioners] don’t even know how many work in
their own department because there are no e-payroll figures."
However, he said the movement of 80,000 personnel was not one big problem,
but would result in 80,000 individual problems. He said the Treasury would need
to look beyond financial savings to see whether or not the plans support the
training and redeployment of civil servants.
David Samuell, public sector director, HR consultancy DBM
Samuell was surprised by the great weight of numbers of HR staff in the
public sector. He said that HR departments tend not to think functionally, as
they have no knowledge of costs of production, HR and sales. Samuell believes
that this makes it difficult for HR departments to benchmark their activities.
However, he warned that a dependency culture in the public services meant many
staff rely on HR to organise their future career, including their redeployment
Mike Emmott, head of employment relations, CIPD
"I have seen no evidence that public sector HR is over-manned,"
said Emmott. "Serious cuts in HR gives the wrong message on people
management." He said that Government could trip itself up by taking away
HR and relying on performance indicators alone to increase outputs. Emmott said
HR needed to take more steps to become a strategic business partner in the
public sector, but warned that a reduction in HR could be very damaging.
"If you have to deliver change, it’s all about people and will therefore
need more HR," he said. "Otherwise [the Government] will be throwing
the baby out with the bath water."
Mike Griffin, director of HR, Kings College Hospital NHS Trust
Griffin believes the Government will have to go beyond staff numbers and
measure the value that HR is producing. "There is a lot of evidence that
the public sector has a strong record of utilising high performance working
practices when it comes to teamwork, appraisal, training and the like,"
Griffin said. He added that if the Government expects and demands high levels
of employment practice and standards to continue, then it should be investing
in HR to continue delivering high performance practices.