Scots change public sector HR

Change and reform are top priorities for the Society of Personnel Directors Scotland. Andy Moore finds out how its president plans to push for progress

The Society of Personnel Directors Scotland (SPDS), which represents public sector HR, has taken on an increasingly innovative role over the past decade. In 1996, the number of Scottish local authorities was cut from 65 to 32. This led to a sea change within personnel management structures, requiring the society to significantly adapt to meet the needs of a consolidated HR workforce.

From humble beginnings, the SPDS has grown from a small organisation to a large advisory body with 62 voluntary members made up of senior HR professionals from Scotland’s remaining local authorities.

Heading up the society is its president, Alistair Dodds, who, like all voluntary members, wears one of several hats within HR. He took up the role last November and divides his time between being the director of corporate services, and deputy chief executive of the Highland Council, based in Inverness.

“HR departments within local authorities have been rationalised over the past decade and are being governed by more middle management rather than at director level,” explains Dodds. “This is a result of a large number of authorities combining public services. Their management structure has changed greatly over the years, with more heads of personnel now reporting to corporate directors.”

So what role does the SPDS play? The main aim of the society is to fulfil an advisory role for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), an organisation that acts as an intermediary between employers and trade unions, negotiating pay conditions for council workers.

Working hand-in-glove with Cosla, the SPDS provides guidance on pay negotiations to local authority employers and other public sector organisations. The negotiating bodies are made up of councillors who determine reasonable pay offers within the conditions of employment among councils.

The SPDS also lobbies trade unions to encourage the Scottish Executive to provide additional funding for public sector jobs. Another key role of the SPDS is to advise the Scottish Executive on how to implement the latest employment legislation and provide guidance on its function within the workplace.

“Flexible working and work-life balance legislation has had a beneficial impact on the HR sector in Scotland,” adds Dodds. “Employees are able to work flexible hours to suit their individual needs, while employers benefit by employing more motivated members of staff.”

In addition to its advisory role, the SPDS is also involved in setting up partnerships between local authorities and the Scottish health service to achieve greater synergy and better practice. Such partnerships include Joint Future and Single Shared Assessment, designed to promote joint working between local authorities and NHS Scotland, plus better community care services. Single Shared Assessment is a fast-track scheme aimed at the care sector. In operation, it is designed to enable simpler assessment of, for example, an invalid to achieve quicker access to community care services.

The SPDS also promotes the Job Evaluation scheme, an initiative designed to provide a systematic approach in defining the worth of jobs within a workplace in relation to pay structures. Another scheme intended to achieve fair and non-discriminatory pay structures between professions is the Single Status initiative, which is also backed by the SPDS.

To ensure members are in the know about the partnerships and schemes, the society runs a series of seminars for members, accompanied by good-practice guides. “Implementing these practices to the best of their aims has enabled HR departments to make major inroads in modernising public services,” Dodds says. “HR professionals within Scottish local authorities have a good reputation in addressing work life balance and equality issues in the workplace.”

Another role of the SPDS is to advise local authority employers on recruitment strategies and how to deal with skills shortages that are increasing across many Scottish public sector services.

Scotland’s social care sector is suffering from a recruitment crisis. So the SPDS has joined forces with Cosla to set up a working group to consider ways of attracting and retaining staff within the beleaguered profession.

“By devising new training schemes, we are able to assist social work HR directors in developing new methods of attracting fresh talent,” Dodds explains. “Previously, local authorities were trying to out-bid each other for the same pool of social workers. We have addressed this issue by promoting a number of fast track training schemes.”

But it’s not just the care sector where HR managers are experiencing severe recruitment difficulties.

On a wider level, local authorities are adopting new recruitment strategies to employ in-house skilled personnel such as electricians, plumbers and building inspectors, who are in short supply. A thriving building industry in Scotland is leading to burgeoning skills shortages and a competitive labour market across local authorities.

Another issue facing the HR sector is modernising public services so they can function efficiently and effectively within a modern society.

“The amount of change within the Scottish labour market is requiring HR departments to be increasingly innovative,” says Dodds. “If we cannot achieve this, then the pace and success of change within the Scottish HR industry will be restricted in years to come. It is essential the SPDS maintains its position as a guardian to local authority HR professionals.”

Alistair Dodds’ CV

President of SPDS

1995 – present
Director of corporate services and deputy chief executive of Highland Council

1995 – 1998
Director of personnel for Highland Council

1991 – 1995
Deputy director of Manpower, services for Highland Regional Council

Before 1991
Director of personnel to Fife Regional Council                          

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