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Public sector at risk as services feel the squeeze of reforms

A further one in six (16 per cent) think that the reforms will fail altogether, and one in 10 say they will be delayed.

In a survey of 1,619 public sector staff from central government, local government and the health sector, a total of 82 per cent believe reforms are under pressure due to staffing cuts.

Healthcare workers are particularly concerned with one in four (23 per cent) stating that staff headcount reductions mean the reforms will fail to be delivered. Interestingly, junior staff in the public sector are 50 per cent more likely than senior staff to think reforms will fail due to headcount.

Almost one in two (45 per cent) public sector staff think that the workforce does not have the skills it needs to deliver public services effectively. Healthcare workers were even less confident, with 60 per cent stating it doesn’t have the skills to deliver.

Leadership, IT and commercial management (e.g. procurement and negotiating contracts) are the skills that public sector workers think are most lacking among colleagues, and also reflect skills that are often associated with the private sector.

Mike Fetters, public sector director at comments:  “The past three years have been a tumultuous time for those in the public sector, with huge cuts and reforms by Whitehall affecting everyone in local government, central government and the NHS. Whilst there have been huge achievements, those in the public sector are clearly worried about their ability to continue to deliver services given skills shortages and staffing gaps. Many of the skills needed are those most associated with the private sector.”

Public sector staff also emphasised the importance of bringing in specialist and vocational skills from the private sector, with 43 per cent of senior central government workers stating that external recruitment is needed to bolster talent.

Robin Harbach, Head of Human Resources, Defence Science & Technology Laboratories (DSTL) who took part in the survey said: “The challenges set out in this report chime with what we are experiencing. In fact, every public sector body will be facing skills and resourcing challenges in some degree. Our priority is ensuring we have the right skills, experience and knowledge mix in our workforce at the right time and place. We also need to maintain the right size, shape, location and diversity of our workforce whilst delivering headcount reductions and redeploying staff in new roles. This must be done alongside improving performance, attracting and retaining talented people, building a shared culture and greater engagement amongst our workforce.”

The report also found that one third of public sector employees believe that retaining highly skilled talent has been handled poorly by public sector employers as 34 per cent of those surveyed did not think managers utilised the opportunity to let go of poor performers during the cuts.

Fetters continues: “Part of the problem is retaining the best talent to deliver services effectively. Public sector workers, including HR managers, have told us that staffing cuts are not being executed with enough consideration towards keeping highly skilled workers and letting the poor performers go. This streamlined workforce is expected to deliver ambitious reforms, yet it’s doing so with a more stretched talent pool.”


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