Scots public sector job squeeze not over, say auditors

27 Nov 13
More pain lies ahead for Scotland’s public sector workforce if necessary budget savings are to be achieved, Audit Scotland said today

By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 28 November 2013

More pain lies ahead for Scotland’s public sector workforce if necessary budget savings are to be achieved, Audit Scotland said today.

Its report – presented jointly to the Accounts Commission, which monitors local authorities, and the Auditor General, who oversees other public bodies – acknowledges that the public workforce has endured hefty job cuts and pay restraint, but says that more austerity will be needed. 

Reductions in staff numbers, it says, have cut the workforce in four years by an estimated 16,000, with a further 10,000 full-time equivalent posts being transferred out of the public sector into arms-length bodies (ALEOs) or other external employers. Total staffing costs, though hard to pin down, are reckoned to have fallen by around £1bn or 8%.

But, the report says, each round of redundancies attracts fewer volunteers, and continuing financial pressures mean that other methods of delivering savings will be needed over the coming years.

‘Public bodies may need to consider changing work patterns and negotiating agreements on workforce flexibilities,’ it says. 

‘They also need to think differently to find new ways to make savings, for example, through service redesign [or] cross-organisation and cross-sector working.’

The report calls on the Scottish Government and local authority leaders to give public bodies strategic advice on redesigning and jointly delivering services, to plan future skills needs better, and to improve the consistency and quality of workforce data collection.

John Baillie, outgoing Accounts Commission chair, said: ‘Public bodies are already beginning to work together to share resources and find different ways to deliver services but with public sector finances set to be under pressure for the foreseeable future they need to come up with new ways to do this.  

‘The public service reform agenda will create opportunities for this kind of work, for example through the integration of health and social care services. Public bodies should also be using existing collaborations like community planning partnerships to plan jointly how to use resources.’

Auditor General Caroline Gardner noted the difficulty in finding reliably compatible figures across the sector for workforce costs and savings.

‘Public bodies record these costs in different ways and an element of the money paid to ALEOs to deliver services will also be spent on staffing,’ she said.  

‘One of our recommendations is that that the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities work with public bodies to help them improve the data they collect on staff costs.’


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