Openness and honesty in public sector recruitment

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The coming months are likely to be difficult for public sector recruitment, particularly in the civil service.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has said that some of the toughest challenges brought about by the coalition government's austerity measures will affect the civil service itself, particularly in areas like pay, pensions and redundancy payouts.

Sir Gus said in an interview recently that civil service leaders would be tested, but should remain open and honest about the difficult times ahead.

This openness and honesty will not be made easier by the magnification of financial issues in the media brought about by the financial turmoil. Issues such as redundancy packages, golden goodbyes and salaries will be scrutinised as never before, and the outrage at some of the more extreme examples of these practices will also be magnified.

A good recent example is the £127m redundancy payout to staff and executives at Glasgow City Council. The council has insisted that in three years' time the measures will produce savings, but its easy to see why the £128,000 average payout is being balked at by opposition parties. This is openness and honesty in action, and while it may discourage similar costly deals in future, the immediate reaction to this news has been outrage.

In the NHS, managers are entitled to up to a year's pay if they leave their posts under the mutually agreed resignation scheme, and while senior managers are paid just under £100,000, PCT chief executives get £137,500. If they are made redundant, the severance pay could be the equivalent of up to two years' pay. However, staff would need 24 years of continuous service to qualify for the deal. That represents a considerable level of commitment from any member of staff, but does it justify the large payout?

While there is money for people leaving the civil service, the problems with getting outsiders in still remain. The civil service labour market has been labelled as one of the most restrictive in the country, and the Public Administration select committee says it is a top priority to find a "radically different" approach to performance management.

Certainly honesty and openness in public sector recruitment is called for, perhaps, too, this radically different approach is needed. However, the rewards of such openness will not be immediate, and it could be several years before seemingly generous or restrictive redundancy and recruitment practices are brought under control.

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