Public sector recruitment policies slammed

29 Apr 10
Public sector employers are ‘waking up’ to the vast spending cuts needed, having embarked on ‘mistaken’ recruitment policies since the economic downturn began, experts have said
By Jaimie Kaffash

29 April 2010

Public sector employers are ‘waking up’ to the vast spending cuts needed, having embarked on ‘mistaken’ recruitment policies since the economic downturn began, experts have said.

The latest Labour Market Outlook survey, released today, shows that public sector employers are increasingly pessimistic about recruiting staff, especially in relation to their private sector counterparts. The survey of 800 employers across both sectors was published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the accountancy firm KPMG.

It found that, while the net balance of private companies expecting to add jobs was 29%, the net balance of public sector employers expecting to shed staff jumped to 43%. This is the largest negative balance since 2004, when the quarterly surveys began.

Alan Downey, head of public sector at KPMG, told Public Finance that attitudes in the two sectors had ‘gone in opposite directions’. Whereas the private sector was low on confidence at the start of the recession, it is now picking up. However, public sector recruitment had so far remained high.  ‘Public sector employers have woken up to the reality of the situation. They are becoming more sensible rather than gung-ho,’ he said.

Downey said he was surprised the change in mood had taken so long. ‘If you know the amount of money available is going to be significantly less, the logical thing to do is plan for that. To some degree there has been a missed opportunity that the plans have not been put in place so it was a mistake to continue to recruit so heavily.’

He added that while the recession had taken the private sector by surprise, ‘there is no surprise about the state of the public finances now’.

But Sampson Low, policy adviser at the Unison union, said there had already been adjustments in recruitment policies. ‘There have been differences within the public sector. Local authorities have been shedding jobs for the last 15 months, while the health service has been relatively safe,’ he told PF. ‘Although they are not being called cuts, public services have been required to make efficiency savings over the past couple of years, so jobs have been shed.’

He added that Unison had sympathy for the employers themselves. ‘We are in a freer Spending Review cycle where ambitious targets have been set by politicians and at no point have they been relaxed.’

The report came on the same day that the Improvement and Development Agency released its local government workforce strategy for 2010. The Delivering through people paper recommends that local authorities invest in trainee posts to provide skills that will be needed when the public sector economic outlook picks up.

Joan Munroe, IDA national policy adviser and the author of the report, told PF that councils had failed to do this so far. ‘A lot of authorities have been setting up apprenticeships for administration roles. But they will be cutting back in admin roles, so there is not really a career structure there. [It would be] better to invest in apprenticeships in areas where there are future skills shortages so there will be real jobs at the end of them, such as customer care roles,’ she said.

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