A report released today from the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) found over two-thirds (69%) of managers had experienced budget cuts in the past year. The overwhelming majority (89%) expect further major cuts in the next 12-18 months in the form of headcount reduction (49%), streamlining processes (49%) and reduced training and development budgets (48%).
The survey of 1,554 managers reveals over two-thirds believe their teams are operating at full capacity with little or no room for efficiency savings. They worry that blanket cuts to public sector budgets will leave them unable to deliver frontline services.
When asked to predict the impact of these cuts, managers anticipated higher workloads (73%), lower morale (69%), increased stress (67%) and reduced quality of service for customers (52%).
Amidst these concerns, managers recognised increased financial pressure would bring real opportunities for the public sector to improve working practices. In particular, over half (51%) are looking forward to innovating more creative solutions to service delivery. Cuts will also provide a welcome opportunity to improve teamwork and communication (48%), deal with inefficiency (42%), make important decisions (31%) and manage out poor performers (28%).
Martin Horton, chief executive of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, said: "The biggest challenge for leaders in public sector organisations today is to be honest about their anxieties, fears, doubts - the scale of the problem. It's raining out there and people don't want to be told it's sunny, they want to know where the umbrellas are."
Mike More, chief executive of Westminster Council, added: "The skillset of a senior leader and aspiring senior leaders and managers is not just around managing one's team, it is managing relationships across quite a wide, disparate series of partners in a more profound way than we have historically done.
"I think that is down in part to one of the findings of the research - the dilemma 'my team is up for it, it's the others that aren't' - it is that which will need to shift because it will never be enough that a single team will do it. That to me is the most profound change for a senior leaders at the moment: moving from a model of command and control to a much more fluid series of relationships."
Penny de Valk, chief executive of the ILM, said: "The research dispels many of the myths about the public sector and its managers, including the belief that it has remained untouched by the economic downturn. The fallout from the recession has already affected budgets and resourcing levels and will continue to do so, potentially at the expense of crucial public services and staff wellbeing.
"Despite concern about the impact of cuts there are positive signs here. It is heartening to see that public sector managers are up for the challenge that awaits them, and confident they can achieve major savings through greater innovation and more effective performance management. Rather than having their budgets salami-sliced from afar, managers need the freedom and support to deliver radical changes to service delivery. The question is whether government, senior management and policy makers will enable them to do so.
"Now, more than ever, we need to develop public sector managers and support them to drive innovation, productivity and performance, so that vital day-to-day services do not suffer."