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PPMA president Dean Shoesmith urges public sector HR directors to see the opportunities budget cuts will bring

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HR directors in the public sector have been urged not to 'sit back and let pay freezes pass' but use the forthcoming budget cuts as an opportunity to rethink reward and look to staff for ideas on how to make savings and improvements.

Dean Shoesmith, HR director at the London Boroughs of Sutton and Merton and president of the Public Sector People Managers Association has spoken out following the Government’s Emergency Budget.

He said: "It is no doubt that some workers will see the increase in VAT and a pay freeze as a double whammy, there will be pay increases for the lower paid but that in itself provides a challenge on aspects such as pay differentials between supervisors and those they are responsible for.

" [But] to sit back and let the freeze pass by and then continue as before would be a lost opportunity. We urge HR professionals in the public sector to use this time to rethink reward and to develop a new approach to remuneration that better fit the changing world. 

"We must also work hard to help staff understand what reward and benefits they get in complete terms, and seek to introduce total reward benefit statements across the sector. Only then will we be successful in retaining and motivating existing staff and attracting new staff."

Shoesmith’s statement came following research from employee benefits suppliers The Personal Group, showing 32% of employees do not think their employer appropriately communicates reward with them and 16% would like employee benefits communication every week.

Commenting on the Government’s proposed review of pensions, Shoesmith added: "This is a difficult one because public sector pensions are spoken of as if there were only one scheme. That is not the case and there are significant differences between the various types of employment, for example local government has a funded scheme where money is invested in the stock market and this fund currently stands in excess of £100 million. However, the scheme for health is unfunded."

Accountants are waiting on details of the Council Tax measures so the real impact on jobs is not known. However, the government now estimates the impact of cutbacks on public sector jobs to be around 600,000 less people over the next five years.

Shoesmith said: "This is very worrying for staff as even those who are in essential front line services become concerned for their future employment. A major challenge as we  go forward is going to be how we ensure that we are still attracting, retaining and nurturing talent when the mood is very much one of staff reductions. HR professionals in the public sector need to work hard to improve employee communications and engage staff."

And he concluded: "The government has announced that it will be sending out letters to public sector workers looking for their ideas on how savings and improvements might be made. This makes sound business sense.

"Front-line staff are often best placed to come up with innovative solutions or at least contribute in the process because they understand customers and working systems better than most others within the organisation, and will know their specific needs and complaints."