Hello PPMA members and friends
Many people involved in the public health transfer in local government must be wondering when exactly the local future will really begin. So much of the process appears to have been driven from the centre that some frustration is understandable. Eventually, the good sense of having public health services run in and for communities will be obvious to everyone. Right now, however, we are involved in the first stages of a programme of cultural change, so patience and sensitivity are important.
It’s not so much that the NHS is highly centralised compared with local government: it is of course but the point is a bit exaggerated. In fact PCTs have been rather independent for a while now and some problems arise because the Department of Health cannot dictate to them.
What does matter a lot in the NHS is consistency and fairness in the treatment of staff. This has meant some prescription of processes for the transfer which may not apply directly to local authorities but have major effects on our local approaches. However, since consistency and fairness are really important principles in local government as well, we know instinctively that the fears that some NHS staff have are unfounded.
Dealing with anxiety is a major part of the effort during the transition period though and this is a key message in the LGA podcast (above) entitled Public Health, a local future.
Also available here are copies of the various documents detailing decisions that have been made at a national level to ensure a smooth transfer, such as around pensions. Existing staff will transfer with NHS pension rights, which is the easiest and cheapest option. The remaining questions around how to handle new starters and people who switch jobs are quite complex because of the need to deal with recruitment and retention issues as well as technical pension requirements. These issues are being dealt with by a national working group
Announcements are expected soon about the process for appointing Directors of Public Health. This issue crystallises the questions about how local services will need to relate to the new national public health architecture. There will always be challenges in this kind of system but we are all used to situations with important national and professional interests to deal with as well as local democratic ones.
The LGA has been closely involved in discussions about public health workforce issues from the very start, seeking to maximise the scope for local discretion and decision-making, whilst ensuring that the necessary rule of the game are as light-touch as possible.
Above all, right from the time we published our Transition Guidance in January, we have stressed that the best way to make decisions is to have local joint local working, involving the trade unions. An atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding provides the best start for deep cultural change.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be horse-trading and difficult, pragmatic decisions over the numbers of staff transferring for example but that of course is what HR is here for.
Senior Adviser – Workforce Policy and Strategy at Local Government Group