What can human resources expect from Gordon Brown as prime minister?

Gordon Brown is enjoying an extended honeymoon period as the country’s new prime minister. But after last week’s news that he was working through the summer recess in an attempt to maintain this support, what does HR want to see from Brown?

Since taking over from Tony Blair at the end of June, Gordon Brown has led the Labour Party to its highest ratings since the start of the Iraq war almost five years ago, according to a poll by YouGov. In fact, his personal rating is even stronger than his party’s.

He has already demonstrated his eagerness to impress, having announced 23 Bills and draft Bills to MPs. Three of these – the Education and Skills Bill, the Employment Simplification Bill, and the Pensions Bill – give an insight into what his reign might mean for HR.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) broadly supports many of the Bills in the draft legislative programme, particularly those relevant to HR professionals.

Keep it simple

Simplification and clarity are the key to Brown’s success as new prime minister, according to the CIPD.

“We have seen steady and effective management from Gordon Brown and we welcome his statements of intent,” said a spokesman.

The CIPD will be watching Brown closely over the next few months. Equality in the public sector, brought into sharp focus by the Equality Act 2006, is one key area, according to the spokesman. The Single Equality Bill, proposed by a government Green Paper in July, will be important, along with the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, he added.

Areas of focus

“I suspect that two additional areas of focus will include UK productivity and motivation of the UK’s public sector workforce,” he said. “The country lags behind many others in skills and productivity, and the post Leitch Review era will play a part in dealing with that.” He also called for better management skills as a way to tackle this lack in productivity.

Kim Parish, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), agreed.

“Recent research by the LSE Centre for Economic Performance suggests that effective management throughout the organisation is a key criterion for organisational success,” she said.

Research from the CIPD on employee engagement found that people felt more motivated if they were trusted.

“Recent years have seen a top-down target process within the public sector, which has left staff a little battle worn and emasculated,” said the spokesman. “This is an area where Brown can win hearts and minds.”

Productivity is also high on the agenda of the Institute for Employment Studies, according to its director Nigel Meager.

“Policy through the Blair era left two challenges for the new leader: closing the skills gap and [improving] productivity,” he said. The delay of the [government response to the] skills review, and a lukewarm response from employers for its take-up, is a major problem because the initiative is employer led – they are key players,” he said.

Serious intention

However, Meager felt that Brown had shown his intention to take skills and productivity seriously. “It may be that the skills review response was held back until Brown entered Number 10. Maybe he wanted to stamp his authority on the scheme.”

Meager added that it was important to get training and funding to the right areas, to where it was most needed, including small employers and the least qualified. And he called for a simpler training system.

“Constant new Green Papers, reviews, and new institutions have all contributed to further confusion. There needs to be a greater focus on simplicity,” he said.

Parish is also concerned about the creation of too many departments.

“The responsibility for further education is now split between two departments: the Department of Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills,” she said. “This will create confusion, and possibly mean that vocational education takes a back seat, notwithstanding the obvious disruption caused by any departmental restructuring.

“On a positive front, the evidence so far has been that the desire for raising skills is at least as strong as before, if not stronger. Brown sees raising skills as a major economic objective, and this is good news for those who care about raising the UK’s economic game.”

Jon Ingham, director of HR consultancy Strategic Dynamics, believes the Bills included in the government’s draft legislative programme are aimed at improving both competitiveness and social mobility, and indicate Brown’s belief in the value that people provide to an organisation.

“The test is how effectively the Bills will be implemented. The crucial requirement here is ongoing consultation with business,” he said.

Brown’s Bills

  • Education and Skills Bill Aims to raise the minimum school leaving age to 18 and bring into force the key findings of the Leitch Review. It will include a new legal right for adults to get free training in basic literacy and numeracy, and duties on employers to release young people for education or training.
  • Employment Simplification Bill Aims to “simplify, clarify and build a stronger enforcement regime for key aspects of employment law”.
  • Pensions Bill Aims to improve access to occupational pension schemes without harming employers or existing pension arrangements.


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