The massive level of change set out in the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) cannot be achieved without a concerted focus on improving public sector management capability, claimed the CIPD.

The CIPD is urging those with responsibility for public sector management – up to and including ministers – not to lose sight of the possibilities and opportunities to genuinely engage and enthuse public sector workers about new ways of working and to secure buy-in to new means of service delivery.

Mike Emmott, employee engagement adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested that there may be little sympathy in the general population if the public sector adopts a widespread and prolonged series of protests: “Our research shows unions cannot rely on public sympathy to face down the Government’s cuts through sustained strike action. But equally, ministers cannot rely on limited enthusiasm for strikes to deliver their vision of reformed, streamlined and diversified public service delivery.

Quoted on the CIPD website, he continued: “The reality is more complicated. Front-line commitment and industrial harmony can only be delivered by persuasive messages about why the cuts are needed, and an unswerving focus on excellent day to day management of the ‘survivors’. Effective and sustained change will only happen in organisations where senior leaders show a sustained commitment to building staff engagement to ensure there is buy-in to change and new ways of working.”

Warning that the way people are engaged and managed will be the critical factor in determining whether the scaled back public sector set out in the CSR is still capable of delivering on ministerial and public expectations, Mike Emmott, says:

“Proposals to improve the autonomy and empowerment of front-line service workers will fail if front-line managers are not equipped with the skills to support these behaviours. Radical plans such as employee-led public sector co-operatives and a step-change in co-ordination and collaboration between local public service providers can only succeed if there is a sustained focus on building management capability. Our research consistently shows a high degree of loyalty amongst public service workers to the services they seek to provide, and the people they provide them to. That loyalty cannot be taken for granted over the next five years. Instead, it will need to be carefully nurtured and harnessed by inspiring managers, focused wholeheartedly on their management responsibilities if the promise of wholesale changes to methods of service delivery is to be realised.