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Achieving more with less

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Wiltshire Council employs more than 15,000 people, including around 5,000 core directly employed staff. Barry Pirie, director of people and business, describes the pressures of meeting increasing demand for services with fewer resources, and the freedom this brings to restructure the organisation.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as an organisation, and how are you planning to meet these from an HR/recruitment perspective?

The ongoing and significant funding cuts made by central government, set against increasing levels of demand for services (particularly services for older people and children) can have a negative impact on employee morale, although the challenges can also be exciting for many members of staff. These pressures have allowed us to transform the organisation significantly, and the restructuring and business realignment has allowed us to refocus our talent on the right things, in the right ways.

However, there remains a national shortage of professional staff, for example, social workers, while senior officers and leaders are retiring. It is harder than ever to attract, recruit and retain high-performing staff. Talent management and succession planning are current priorities: strategic people management and development is fundamental to the business as is ensuring HR operates as a business partner to the wider organisation.

Our employee value proposition (EVP) has been developed, branded and widely communicated, and this is helping us to attract key members of staff. We have aligned our recruitment activity with social media which has led to successful campaigns and reduced costs.

We ensure that our offer is consistent with our message and EVP: we are a forward-thinking-and-acting organisation, delivering major efficiency and change transformation in order to achieve more focused outcomes with, and for, our communities and customers. Change is centred around the three areas of culture, technology and efficient buildings/working environment. 

Tell us about any recent change initiatives that have affected the organisation, how you overcame challenges and the business results achieved

We made a radical move from having more than 100 operational and service locations and sites, to creating three operational office hubs and transforming ways of working. Public sector organisations share office locations and we have moved to a flexible operating model for our teams.

The challenge has been around culture: identifying a shared vision and behaviours, developing a behaviours framework and embedding this fully across the organisation. Working with different agencies and elements of the public sector continues to be challenging, with difficulties mostly linked to cultural issues or misunderstandings. 


Some argue that public sector HR is less progressive and innovative than HR in the private sector, do you agree?

No, I have never have agreed with this. I have worked in all sectors, including the private sector – and currently do a lot of work with outsourced services with the private sector – and it is not always creative or innovative.

The 40-plus government budget reductions have given those of us in local government the opportunity to review and challenge our business model and strategies and drive towards a business-focused delivery model. The pressure has created a ‘burning platform’ from which to have the key conversations with politicians, our elected members, managers and employees.

What are your expectations for the future of the public sector?

I foresee more budget reductions and efficiencies and transformational change; plus continued collaboration and sharing of resources and assets across the public sector. I think there will be more and different business delivery models and mechanisms that are more efficient, and deliver within he tight financial framework.

There may a move towards fewer directly employed core staff within the sector, but I’m not sure whether this will happen as outsourcing is becoming more difficult.

How can HR professionals develop the skills to succeed in the public sector at a time when there may be no budget for professional development opportunities?

We own our careers so, where we cannot gain organisational funding for professional development, I think we must fund ourselves. We are introducing access to development loans to encourage this.

The ever-changing and challenging people agenda will continue to expand and develop over the coming years, so the important thing is to be flexible and fluid, nimble and business focused. Understand the businesses you are supporting and their strategic plans, customers and client outcomes, barriers to delivery and so on.  

Gain as much experience from all professional business areas across HR and occupational development and, where possible, seek exposure to senior managers and elected members and to partner and private sector organisations. Network more, using national networking organisations to support this, such as the Public Services People Managers’ Association (PPMA) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development CIPD. 

It’s a great, exciting – yet very challenging – place to be, delivering significant transformation and change to achieve budget efficiencies and customer/community outcomes. Come and join us!

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton


Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.



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