Essential public services are facing a capacity crisis and we must use the potential of staff – Hilary Armstrong

But the workforce faces a capacity, skills and recruitment crisis. My committee explored the challenges facing the public service workforce and laid out a plan to create a future-ready workforce.

The House of Lords Public Services Committee has just published a new report on the workforce of the public services. We called it: Fit for the Future? Unfortunately, it is not the case.

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The public service workforce is facing a crisis. Staffing shortages are significant and have serious implications for service users. Morale is very low and employers are not doing enough to make public service careers attractive to future employees. Recruitment difficulties are considerable. With an aging population, this vicious cycle will worsen.

Photo: Andrei Popov/AdobeStock.

There are shortages everywhere: in education, health and care, prisons, local communities. Public services are struggling to meet demand and we are beginning to see the impact of shortages and turnover on service users; including on vulnerable children, whose key players are constantly changing.

As Britain’s population ages, these shortages are getting worse. We are facing a demographic crisis, where the demand for services will grow much faster than the working-age population.

The proportion of the population with multiple and complex needs will increase further, even if the available labor market will be smaller. This is not news, but we were disappointed to find that the government does not even have the hard data it needs to plan ahead.

We’ve heard that as the cost of living crisis continues to unfold, working in some public service roles may simply become unaffordable. Some social workers, whose jobs can influence the quality of life of the most vulnerable people in our society, are paid very little. Ninety-six percent of school support staff are not paid enough to meet the price increases.

But that’s not the extent of the problem.

Many people providing public services have been disempowered and do not feel that the work they do is recognized or valued.

We have developed recommendations that, if implemented, would make a substantial difference and ensure a more sustainable workforce in public services for the future. These recommendations all have one thing in common: they call for flexibility.

Flexibility in the deployment of teams; flexibility by allowing them to make the decisions for which they are equipped; flexibility in the use of technology and in external engagement; what qualifications are needed and how to access them; and flexibility in how to retain the people the workforce will need in the future.

We have seen this flexibility, and this imagination especially at the local level.

In Camden, a talent pool works with local residents with an in-depth knowledge of their communities and an understanding of the services, having been at the end of them: a fantastic talent pool.

They help people write their CVs and refer them to positions in the public services.

They are powerful and diverse reservoirs of talented future employees.

During the pandemic, Wigan Council has redeployed some council staff to frontline positions, building capacity, understanding and relationships within the workforce.

This approach, because it provides interest, pleasure and fulfillment to the teams, will be very positive for retention.

We urgently need to access the untapped potential of public service workers.

The committee met with an associate physician, who could perform many of the tasks performed by general practitioners.

Despite this, she was unable to prescribe medication, which delayed treatment of some diagnosed health conditions while a GP’s opinion was sought.

It just doesn’t make sense.

Moreover, if she wanted to change careers and become a GP, taking on more responsibility, she would have to start from scratch – none of her valuable and eminently transferable experiences would be recognized – and she would have to spend tens of thousands of pounds. indebted.

As a company, we also put in place unnecessary barriers for those who wish to qualify for particular roles.

Again, public sector employers, professional bodies, regulatory bodies and universities should be much more flexible in how they recruit.

Medical apprenticeships are promising because they allow people to qualify without debt and with the same level of expertise at the end of the process.

Alternative routes can also help increase diversity: many groups are under-represented in the public service workforce. Shouldn’t the size of the public service reflect the population it serves?

Our findings go to the heart of how the public sector can better attract, train and retain the people we need to deliver services in the future. The challenge is daunting: the public sector will have to deliver the same or better results with less available manpower. It’s time to start making big changes.

– Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top is chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee.