Hello PPMA members and friends
It’s fair to say that in the past few years, being in local government has not been a place for the faint-hearted and a first look at the measures outlined in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement make all of this look like light work compared to what lies ahead.
Job losses, pay freezes and cuts to funding accompanied by intense scrutiny from the media and uncertainty from year to year about lies ahead have made it tough for everyone from the frontline worker to leader.
Despite all this, we have managed to get to a place where we are operating more effectively than before and the public even thinks we are doing a good job.
The cut in the central government grant combined with the need to support the integrated health and social care service will place immense pressure on our organisations.
That is before we take into account the need to work on devolution deals along with any outstanding plans we already have for restructuring our organisations and collaborating with private and third sector partners.
By 2020 there is no doubt that the shape of local public services will be unrecognisable – both what in what we do and the way that councils and other public sector bodies deliver them.
From an HR perspective, the real challenge today is less about future structures and implementing cuts but a more straightforward human concern about what we can do to make sure to attract, retain and motivate people the people we need to sustain those services.
If that was a tough ask over the last few years, it looks like getting harder.
Plans announced in the Autumn Statement to tackle perceived excess pay for council chief executives look set to put even more pressure on leaders. While the exact measures are unknown until they are published in December, there is a real risk that the talent we need at the top of our organisations may decide they might be better off outside of the public sector.
Public sector workers right across the sector also look set to come in for further scrutiny with separate plans to be announced to tackle high levels of sick leave compared to the private sector. There is a legitimate issue to be addressed here but it will be need to be tackled with considerable skill in order to avoid the unintended consequence of turning away the talent we need to transform public services.
Lastly, we need to face up to real challenge of change fatigue in our organisations. This the potent force which drives committed people to decide they have had enough and where they mentally ‘check out’ of any deeper commitment or loyalty to managers, leaders or their organisations.
For every council and in the wider public sector, once the decisions are made about the future of our organisations, it is the challenge of engaging our people that will endure and will define the success of any future change.
Leaders who fail to acknowledge that will find that it is not the cuts that are their undoing, it is the internal bleeding that may prove fatal.
Barry Pirie, PPMA President and Associate Director, People and Business, Wiltshire Council