Hello PPMA members and friends
I think was probably on about the eighth hole of my Bank Holiday Monday game of golf that I was reminded what a momentous day 1st April 2013 is. It was the chatter of my playing partners, who rarely stray from the safe ground of sport into politics, that reminded me. And as on the next hole another sliced drive sailed right into the trees and it was evident that I had no hope of success in the competition I had entered, my thoughts turned to what many will see as a drift to the right, as this Government’s policies on both the NHS and the welfare state start to have real impact.
On 1st April Council Tax Benefit is abolished and in its place the Council Tax Support Scheme introduced, which is promoted specifically as a discount scheme, rather than a benefit. What has become known as the “bedroom tax” is also introduced on that date. Housing Benefit rules are amended so that people deemed to have too much living space by their local authority will receive a reduced payment.
Finally and perhaps most controversially, Universal Credit, intended to replace six of the main means-tested benefits and tax credits is piloted for the first time. Originally there were to be four “Pathfinder” areas, but for the moment, there will be just one, in Tameside. The reforms too do not stop there, as from the 15th April, there will be a cap on benefits, which aims to ensure that people on benefits cannot be better off than if they were working.
At the same time, the latest reforms of the NHS take effect. Described variously as a “landmark in the history of the NHS”, or indeed, as it’s “privatisation”, Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts are abolished and are replaced by GP-led Commissioning Groups and a new NHS Commissioning Board. As part of the changes taking place in the NHS, responsibilities for public health commissioning are transferring to local authorities, returning powers they once had and giving weight to their role in promoting well being in their communities.
This is the change that has had the most obvious impact on HR. The transfer of staff from the Primary Care Trusts and the establishment of Director for Public Health roles has gone smoothly by-and-large and where it has not, this seems to have been a consequence of the difficulty of getting timely information from the NHS.
As I scrabbled in the bushes on the ninth hole, I reflected that my focus in the last few weeks has been on the budget and the subsequent information and debate about the extent of the further budget reductions local government are likely to have to bear. Have I perhaps neglected to think through all the HR implications of what is a momentous week of change?
Certainly on my radar is the contentious issue of whether local authority staff currently doing benefits work should be subject of TUPE transfer to DWP when Universal Credit is introduced. What I do also know is that these changes are going to have a huge impact on the Borough in which I work, where our organisational vision is to “raise average household incomes”. As a member of the senior management team I am aware that the benefit changes are expected to take around £50m out of a local economy that is already very weak. This will impact significantly on the High Street and place a great strain on both the community and Council services. Demand on our community food bank, for example, has grown dramatically already in the last year.
Changes in housing benefit are putting huge pressure on the private rented sector in areas such as East London, where rent levels are that much lower than other parts of the Capital. The introduction of the “bedroom tax” will make many of the properties we rent unaffordable and we are very concerned about the extent to which both rent and Council Tax arrears will grow.
The broader changes in the NHS require us to develop new relationships with the different entities created, which is crucial to us, given our concerns about the quality of care in some of our local hospitals.
These are the issues and discussions that feature at our senior management team and being “centre stage” for HR, the theme of our April Seminar, means not only being on top of the specific TUPE or learning and development issues associated with the changes taking place, but also being able to contribute to these broader discussions.
HR’s role is also about staying in touch with the mood of the organisation and the changes taking place in the NHS and in terms of benefits, have the potential to add further pressure to local authority staff who, evidence suggests, are already experiencing greater levels of stress and where morale is being impacted on by the on-going implications of cost reductions.
Given the pressures at work, I really must find a pastime a little more relaxing than my golf!