The public sector reforms
Central and local government are operating in a climate of unprecedented change, mostly induced by the need to dramatically reduce costs. Cuts across departments are averaging 19% over four years and capital expenditure is projected to fall to £47.1 billion in 2014-15 (from a total of £59.5 billion in 2010-11) and to as low as £21 billion in terms of net investment.
However, all this has come at a time when there is an increased demand for services. The UK is experiencing not only a rise in its aged population but also a mini baby boom. For example, statistics show that there were nearly 19,000 more babies born in England and Wales in 2008 than 2007 the equivalent to over 700 additional classrooms when those children start school. At the other end of the age spectrum, the number of 75+ year olds is due to increase by over 80% from 4.7 million in 2008 to 8.6 million by 2033.
This begs the question: are the public sector reforms set out by the government realistic? The recent Totaljobs survey, Recruiting for Today’s Public Sector, done in conjunction with Dods Research, found that within the public sector workforce, 82% of those questioned believed the reforms will be under pressure or delayed due to the cuts. While 72% stated that the reforms will be under pressure due to the cuts – of which over half (56%) don’t think that reforms will be carried out effectively due to too few staff. Finally, 16% think that reforms will actually fail.
Interestingly, junior staff in central government are 50% more likely than senior staff to believe reform will fail as a result of headcount. Ominously this points towards the fact that those actually facing the cuts and working with them on a day-to-day basis are seeing them restrict their ability to do their job effectively?
The challenge is clear and meeting it will require a radical shift in the way government operates, finances and accounts for its public services. Yet, for all the rhetoric there is an additional problem looming on the horizon; as the rest of the economy picks up and wages start to rise again, the public sector could well find itself struggling to bring in the necessary skills.
Already 45% of public sector staff surveyed in the Totaljobs survey thought that the workforce did not have the skills that it needs to continue to deliver public services effectively. And that gap could be set to get even worse; as the economy picks up and wages go up the public sector is going to find it ever harder to bring in the core skills it needs.
The need to break pay caps
In January PASC chair Bernard Jenkin called for higher pay to “recruit and retain the long-term and committed senior leadership the civil service needs”. Civil service commissioner Sir David Normington also argued that departments need the “flexibility to pay more to get the best candidates”. Meanwhile, officials and suppliers alike blame pay caps for stifling recruitment, hastening a skills exodus, and damaging delivery in outsourcing.
It doesn’t paint a promising picture
Over half of respondents (54%) to the Totaljobs survey do not think that their organisation currently has enough of the skills that are required to deliver their set objectives. While the view across the public sector is concerning, local government respondents are more confident, with 42% stating that there are enough of the skills required to deliver, compared to the 33% of all public servants who share this opinion
However, in a column for Civil Service World from earlier this year, editor, Matt Ross, concluded: “Governments need officials capable of delivering their policies – and currently, that means improving capabilities in fields such as commercial, digital and technical. When the civil service embarks on huge and complex projects without those skills, the costs of failure quickly exceed the price of capabilities. But history threatens to repeat itself. If the government doesn’t rapidly improve the reasons why skilled professionals might choose a career in the civil service, ministers will find their staff increasingly incapable of tackling the important, novel and challenging tasks put before them.”