The cuts to public services have given HR directors in the public sector the “opportunity they have been waiting for – to add a harder edge to their work”, said incoming president of the Public Sector People Managers Association (PPMA), Martin Rayson (pictured).
Rayson, divisional director of HR and OD at London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, will take on the PPMA presidency at the end of this month, in addition to his day job.
Speaking to HR, he said: "The theme for my presidency is 'faster, higher, stronger'. This is in response to the huge challenges HR directors in the public sector face, including huge challenges with limited resources. It is not about doing HR differently, but with a harder edge."
In April last year, HR reported 140,000 town hall jobs were due to be cut as part of the Government's austerity measures in England and Wales alone - and 10% of HR professionals across the sector were facing redundancy.
The week HR spoke to Rayson, following the Budget Statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicted the public sector workforce is on course to fall to a record low. The CIPD's analysis of the OBR figures indicated that the number of people employed in central and local government would have fallen by 700,000 in the course of this Parliament (2010-2015) and by 880,000 by the time the Chancellor hopes to have closed the structural fiscal deficit in 2017.
This, added to the debate about public sector pensions and strike action during the past 12 months, means the "mood doesn't create a positive employer brand," said Rayson, especially for the PPMA, whose mission is to promote 'world class HR and support people strategy across the public sector'. He added: "Cuts to local government were front-loaded, with many local authorities forced to cut back on staff budgets over the past year. But in the Government's Autumn Statement, there were hints of further reductions, so our challenge is to get organisations to focus on the long term.
"The industrial relationship challenges, pay freezes - and belief that senior executives are paid too much - don't create a positive brand and this should be a concern to HR professionals."
In response, the PPMA is embarking on research into the value proposition of the public sector, in the belief this will be "fundamental" in attracting talent to the sector.
Rayson said: "We can't guarantee a job will be for life or that an employee will receive a great pension any more - and when it comes to reward, Government policy for public services is restraint. Therefore, as employers we need to reconsider the conversations we have with staff."
Calling them "critical conversations", Rayson is adamant line managers must be trained to engage and motivate employees when discussing changes to terms and conditions.
He added: "This is how they can create a strategic narrative: there is a positive future for the sector. We can motivate employees by talking about meeting the needs of the communities they serve. Our staff are committed to their jobs, but must feel supported to do this."
Returning to the importance of HR departments in the public sector and in light of Camden Council's HRD Mike Cooke's recent promotion to CEO, Rayson added: "HR has to cement its place within the organisation - it is not easy, but the core of success is ability and we need to develop the skills and motivation to support public sector organisations."
But he was keen to emphasise the relationship between the public sector and other branches of the economy.
"We [the public sector] have a lot to learn from the private and charity sectors," he added. "At our PPMA Seminar later this month, I have invited speakers from organisations such as Amey and John Lewis. There are lessons to be learned from John Lewis' employee-led business model and we can apply this very much to local Government.
"The key is to think less about 'public sector' and more about 'public services' - working collectively on projects to serve the communities in which we operate."
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