The public sector is clinging onto its best people with its fingertips. So says Graham White, who is HR director at Westminster City Council - and he is not the only one. Unprecedented cuts are causing deep disillusionment among workers, not least those in HR who are being lambasted as the axemen. And it has only just begun.
The scale of change is still hard for the layperson to comprehend. Up to 10,000 jobs in Liverpool are expected to go. Manchester City Council is making £109 million of cuts. Some 53,000 jobs in the NHS are in the firing line. And 10% of HR roles are threatened.
It may be unfashionable in business circles to declare this view, but here goes. The public sector is not all wasteful. The NHS generally does a good job. Yes, I have met NHS staff who seem scarily unable to differentiate between left and right. But I have also met amazing people who have been excellent at their job, particularly in stressful A&E. I have also had to call on the police a number of times. Again, the service has not always been up to scratch but, trust me, it is better than I have received outside the UK.
As someone who has used many public sector services, I could go on. Some departments have been appalling, others fantastic. The fact is that there is good and bad in the public sector.
Both are also found in the private sector, supposed saviour of us all. Yet the Financial Ombudsman received 97,237 new complaints in the second half of 2010 - an increase of 15% on the first half - while a YouGov survey out last month showed utilities and retail/restaurants follow banks as the most complained about sectors.
There is something we seem to have forgotten. The public sector delivers services. It does not exist to make money. The private sector makes money while delivering services, but it is not always good at the service element.
I have returned from chairing an HR conference in Stockholm. There was no litter on the street and everyone told me the health service was excellent. It's the type of city one admires. There is bureacracy, though. When I asked about effecting change, I was told it takes a while because work councils must be consulted. When I talked about welfare, I was reminded about the high taxes locals pay for it.
As our cover story (p20) shows, the public sector is transforming, not least in HR itself. And Tower Hamlets Council CEO Kevan Collins tells us that, despite the pain of finding £72 million in savings, he is doing everything he can to keep talent and nurture morale (p18). The austerity cuts provide a good opportunity to future-proof our organisations. Whether the cuts are too fast and deep remains to be seen, but there is no turning back.
HR in the public sector has been called to account and the survivors will be those who have upped their game and proved their worth.
Siân Harrington, editor, HR magazine