Staff with pride in public service

The future for local government is about how best to deliver life changing outcomes for people in local communities with less money and through increased collaboration and partnership. It is the outcomes that are the primary focus, not the organisations delivering them.
The government is setting the tone by reducing spending overall while demanding value for money, better outcomes and different approaches like more use of local volunteers. The focus is increasingly on ‘self‑help’ and reduced dependency on the state.
Local councillors are in touch with what their local people need but often struggle to make sense of the layers of local government and public services that still exist in many places. There can be a tendency to focus on immediate complaints without dealing with the big challenges ahead.   
After all, politicians want to be re-elected every four years, and this can sometimes work against longer term planning. However, up and down the country local councils are responding to the challenges and managing with reduced budgets. Potential outcomes are improving for many people, often the most vulnerable in our society.
Thinking about discrete workforces is changing to focus on the wider workforce delivering public services, regardless of organisational boundaries.

This is likely to include a complex web of people working in local government health, charities, private companies, local authority trading companies, staff mutual companies as well as some central government agencies – and of course volunteers.

Engaging service workers
Workforce engagement is a major focus and many are thinking about how approaches to recruiting, retaining and engaging staff will need to adapt to keep pace with the changes to service delivery models, organisations and workplaces.   
The Engage for Success movement reflects the mood and the priorities of organisations needing people to ‘join’, ‘stay’ and ‘do their best’. It is now more important than ever for employers to take account of employee as well as organisational needs and aspirations. Even whilst the public sector world is changing, there is still a pride in public service amongst many workers that organisations work hard to harness.  
This is not easy to maintain in a climate where the numerous cases of child deaths like Baby P, NHS scandals, and public servant corruption, as well as the ongoing debate about senior executive pay, have all fuelled negative media coverage and affected public perception.

A strained workforce
New research suggests 880,000 jobs will be cut by 2017 to cut public spending, reducing public sector jobs to their lowest level since the creation of the welfare state after the Second World War. There is an emerging disproportionate impact on women who make up a significant part of the public sector workforce and the cuts are helping to push female unemployment to a 25-year high.
We will still need many professionals in health, social work, planning and housing but their roles are changing. Employers need to work with colleges and universities to ensure that young people are ready for the new world of public sector work. Often they come with the technical qualifications but are not ‘job ready’ in terms of attitude and behaviours, or understanding how the new ‘organisations’ work in practice.
Collaborative leadership
For existing staff, apart from the uncertainty of whether they will have a job, the need for increased flexibility means a shift in the way they work, which requires managerial support and strong leadership. For senior and middle managers with local government, for example, the number of roles has already reduced by as much as 30 per cent in some areas and the breadth of knowledge required is increasing all the time.
This has an impact on career paths and succession planning. The jump into senior roles is becoming more challenging and this needs to be recognised. Collaborative leadership requires strong skills when the future is uncertain.  
Many public sector line managers have a professional background and struggle to step effectively into a management role without development and coaching.  Learning and development is now more important than ever but needs to be carefully targeted and measured for impact.

Getting people into work
Despite the politics, community leadership on the ground requires demonstrable courage to truly work together for a common social purpose and support communities to support each other, shift expectations away from the state and encourage self help.
One way of helping people to help themselves is to focus on work for all, via community led employment solutions, a new community led employment infrastructure and transition away from traditional organisationally-based employment models.
A confident sector
One practical example is the care sector, which is growing because of the ageing population and spans public, private, health and charities. A single local model of professionalising care work and making it more attractive to workers is a win/win.   
We need leaders and workforces that understand the pressures and complexities of providing public services but who are also committed to innovation and creativity as way of making them better in an uncertain world. There is already a level of pride, which we need to build on for the future before it is lost altogether. Being proud to deliver effective public services, however challenging this may be or whoever you work for, is the way forward. ‘Public and proud’ is the new future.

Further information

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