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Budget challenge is bigger than cutting bureaucracy, says public sector association

Siân Harrington , 09 Feb 2011

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The Public Sector People Managers' Association (PPMA) has hit back at claims that the sector is wielding its axe at frontline services rather than reducing bureaucracy.

 

As Manchester City Council announces plans to close swimming pools, libraries, public lavatories and weekly bin collections as part of a £109 million cuts programme, PPMA president-designate, Anne Gibson (pictured), said cutting back on bureaucracy was not enough to achieve the savings required.

"Councils have been reducing bureaucracies for some time, but the size of the budget challenges is such that if you shut down all the back offices, it would still not be enough," she said.

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"People in this sector work hard and are motivated to do the best they can. Sometimes the system does get in the way and I understand the view about bureaucracy, but most of the budget is in big services such as childcare and eldercare. All organisations are squeezing everything they can. The scale is not achievable if we only cut bureaucracy."

Gibson, who takes up the PPMA presidency next month, has a track record in cutting bureaucracy on her own patch, Norfolk County Council, where she is head of organisational development and HR. By restructuring HR, the council is saving more than £400,000, while it has also undertaken a major exercise in pay changes across the workforce.

Her comments come as Downing Street is reported to be concerned that vested interests and bureaucracies are trying to thwart reform by blaming the Government for cuts in services.

Gibson said there was a need to stop talking about the public sector being bad and the private sector good. "We need to learn all we can from each other, whether it be local authorities, social enterprises, the health service, the voluntary sector or private sector," she said.

The scale of cuts demanded by the Government in the Comprehensive Spending Review last year will result in a permanent change in the face of the public sector, she said. Members of the PPMA are concerned about both the short and long-term, as well as keeping staff engaged.

"In terms of the downsizing, everyone is just getting on with it. We have not done a lot of large-scale redundancy exercises in the public sector in the past few years, but we have done a lot of other big change programmes. It is really pressurised at the moment," Gibson said.

"This will all change what the public sector workforce is going to look like. In the short term, it is about handling the scale of downsizing. Some of it will happen this year and some will be later. We guess there will be more to come."

One of the key messages from the PPMA is that HR needs to support itself through these changes, she added.

"The real risk is the demand on people’s resilience and the need to manage engagement. HR needs to address organisational resilience, the resilience of managers to cope with the reductions and its own resilience."

The PPMA itself has recognised the time and cost implications facing its members and is therefore altering its approach this year. Its annual conference next month has been postponed and it is looking to run shorter, themed events across the country.

It is also collaborating strategically with its health sector counterpart, the Healthcare People Management Association (HPMA). This reflects, for example, the scrapping of primary care trusts recently announced by the Government and subsequent changes in the way local government will be interacting with the health service.

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