Notes to editors
The letter will be signed by:
George Barlow OBE, Chair, London Development Agency
Steve Bundred, Chief Executive, London Borough of Camden
Will Hutton, Chief Executive, Industrial Society
Dr Beverly Malone, General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Chief Executive, King's Fund
Sir John Stevens, Commissioner, Metropolitan Police
A copy of the letter is appended to this press release. For more details, or for interviews with the signatories to the letter, please contact Andrew Bell on 020 7307 2585 or 07831 554931, or Daniel Reynolds on 020 7307 2581.
Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
18 February 2002
Dear Prime Minister
We are leading figures in a range of organisations providing and observing public services, including health, housing, police, and local government. Following your recent speech about improving and supporting these services, we are writing to propose ways forward to help renew public services.
As you know, there are significant problems in recruiting and retaining staff across the public sector which are severely compromising the quality of service that can be provided. These issues are worse in London than elsewhere, and retention of staff is often more difficult than recruitment. The Government has begun to address these issues, but more action is needed, and quickly.
Five main factors are contributing to the problem. Firstly, and most significantly, is how public sector workers appear to be valued by politicians and the media, and the knock-on effects this has on public perceptions. Despite your recent support for public sector professionalism, all too frequently the actual policies and priorities of politicians give the message that public services are badly managed and need to be taught lessons from the private sector, or at least can be trusted only to carry out tasks set by central government.
Secondly, pay and the cost of living. Despite efforts to boost salaries in real terms, pay remains an issue, particularly starting salaries. The lack of affordable housing and the decaying infrastructure of transport in the capital are adverse influences on recruiting and retaining workers in the public sector.
Thirdly, the changing nature of jobs in the public sector. Across all sectors, workloads have intensified and there have been growing, and often uncoordinated, requirements for audit, inspection and regulation, and paperwork. In some areas there have been increasing examples of violence against public sector workers, for example, in the NHS.
Fourthly, increasing employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors are drawing staff away from frontline work. These positions, in research and audit for example, are often perceived to be better paid for less stressful work and have more manageable working hours.
Fifthly, London appears to be a training ground for many professionals in the public sector, exporting trained workers to other areas of the country and abroad, which makes retention a significant problem.
These trends have stark effects which cannot be ignored. Staff shortages are significant. For example, the Royal College of Nursing estimates there were around 20,000 whole time equivalent nurse vacancies in the NHS in England in March 2001. Although there has been progress in filling vacancies, nurse shortages are still widespread across the NHS. Some London Boroughs have a 40% vacancy rate for qualified social workers. Only 64% of advertisements for posts in secondary schools in London result in successful appointments.
There has been some action to address these problems, but much more needs to be done. Firstly, the esteem problem should be tackled vigorously. The Government should consider a major and sustained campaign to champion public servants and the values that underpin their work. In order to challenge some of the current assumptions, a key objective should be to inform the public more about the complex and responsible jobs performed by public sector workers, and the high level of skills that many have.
Secondly, pay and conditions have to be further improved. For example, loyalty payments could be considered for long service, and guaranteed pay to cover sabbaticals or 'study' leave introduced. Pension arrangements could also be more flexible. Consideration should be given to increasing the transferability of pensions across the public sector.
Thirdly, there could be a reduction in the application of efficiency or cost minimisation targets to the public sector. A thorough pruning of the amount of paperwork required, such as that associated with monitoring and audit, is also essential, with specific emphasis on reducing unnecessary duplication.
Without the support of a stable, well-trained, well-motivated workforce the Government's efforts to modernise public services, no mater how determined, will have limited success. We therefore hope the Government will help ensure public service workers in London and the whole of the UK are once again held in high esteem and have the support they need to deliver the highest quality services.
George Barlow OBE
Chair, London Development Agency
Chief Executive, London Borough of Camden
Chief Executive, Industrial Society
Dr Beverly Malone
General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
Rabbi Julia Neuberger
Chief Executive, King's Fund
Sir John Stevens
Commissioner, Metropolitan Police