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LGC POLICY - FLEX APPEAL

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The Welsh Assembly has produced an initiative that blurs the lines between public sector professions. Jennifer Tayl...
The Welsh Assembly has produced an initiative that blurs the lines between public sector professions. Jennifer Taylor reports

Public sector carers are in a state of change. This is not surprising in an age where public services are emphasising the need to work across professional boundaries within and beyond the public sector.

Professional lines are being blurred, with people moving between local and central government, the NHS and the civil service.

So what is being done to improve people's skills and prepare them for new ways of working?

The Welsh Assembly responded to the challenge by adopting the Public Sector Management Initiative, in partnership with local government and the NHS.

Trevor Samuel, programme manager of the initiative at the Welsh Assembly, says the main aim is to improve delivery of public services. He says: 'If you have a better understanding of how things work in different areas you will be a more rounded public servant, and one more likely to deliver better services.'

The idea is that, by building the capacity of individuals, the capacity of organisations will increase, thereby improving services. He adds: 'In many cases, particularly in senior positions, it does not matter if you are leading local government, civil service or health organisations.'

A chief executive in local government needs to have a wide perspective on things, as do senior figures in other organisations.

John Benington, professor of public policy and management at Warwick Business School, led some of the research that developed the Welsh management initiative. Prof Benington says Wales leads the way because of its smaller scale and close working relationship between central and local government, police, fire and the health authorities.

In 2001, Prof Benington was on the advisory board of a Cabinet Office investigation into leadership in the public sector. The review concluded that it was important for all parts of the public sector to have a sense of being part of a wider public service at three specific times: point of entry, mid-career and at the top.

'You need a series of stepping stones that you can step on or off,' he says, adding: 'No one in England has managed to implement this.'

Efforts are being made, which includes Warwick University's public sector MPA - the public sector equivalent of an MBA.

The course is for leadership and management development across central, regional and local government. Most applicants will have a first degree and four or five years' experience, but sometimes a good applicant with less experience is accepted.

Several council chief executives are on the course, along with chief executives from the NHS and elsewhere.

It consists of 13 one-week modules spread over three years. Nine weeks are spent at Warwick University, learning about topics such as financial management, leadership and how to manage people and change. Four weeks are set aside for electives, which include international options.

The main purpose of the MPA is to learn about other areas of the public sector and to build contacts with other professionals across local and central government, the NHS and the police. 'We are creating a network of public managers across the country,' says Prof Benington.

A consequence of its success is that people become highly skilled and some apply for jobs outside their sector. Prof Benington says: 'It was never the intention [of the MPA] but as a by-product these people become more marketable, with the confidence to lead and manage change.'

Other innovations in local government include the Local Government Leadership Centre, which is run by the Local Government Association and the Improvement & Development Agency. The centre is funded by the ODPM through its capacity building fund. It is presently recruiting a chair and director, and will launch in July.

'The purpose is to promote and enhance the quality of political and managerial leadership in local government,' says Joe Simpson, project manager of the centre.

It recognises that local government brings together both elected members and officers and has a community governance role in engaging with external stakeholders.

The centre's initial focus will be senior officers and councillors. Mr Simpson says he hopes it will push the message that 'local government is a good place to work because of the investment local government will make in people's development'.

He has discussed joint work with the NHS University, and common elements in the courses may be introduced. 'The leadership centre will establish links across the public and private sectors,' he says.

For younger staff, the Employers' Organisation has a fast-track development programme called the National Graduate Development Programme. It includes placements, mentoring and a postgraduate diploma in local government management and hopes to develop highly skilled managers who can work with a range of people in their authorities.

Local initiatives are also taking place to increase flexibility within councils. A back-office system at East Sussex CC is set to replace individual roles in human resources, finance and procurement. Staff will, instead, learn to work in support services.

Leatham Green, head of business and workforce planning at East Sussex County Council, says: 'It offers employees greater opportunity, flexibility and agility to move across the organisation.'

He adds: 'Here, like any organisation where resources are reducing, we have to encourage agility and flexibility in our administration staff and our managers.'

So headway is being made but there are still lessons to learn from Wales. Clive Grace, the Audit Commission's director-general in Wales, says the commission was keen to be part of the Welsh initiative 'because questions of management capacity and capability are critical to the success of Welsh public services and we see this initiative as having a major role to play'.

He adds: 'The model of the assembly working with organisations across public services at a local level and the way it is looking across public services as a whole in terms of management development and management competencies mean there are certainly some lessons that might be relevant to other parts of the UK.'

Anna Freeman, head of employment at the Welsh Local Government Association, sums up the ethos: 'There is a great deal of partnership working now, so it is not just about what the council does any longer. It is about making links with a whole range of very diverse organisations, including the voluntary and private sectors.'

She adds: 'We are looking for a whole range of people, with a whole range of skills, to manage the very complex work that councils are now undertaking.'

The Welsh Assembly's first minister, Rhodri Morgan, says: 'We need to invent a new form of public service in Wales, where individuals are able to move far more easily between one form of organisation and another. We need a Welsh public service rather than a Welsh civil service.'

Minister for finance, local government and public services Sue Essex says: 'The Public Sector Management Initiative - which will initially include local government, health and the civil service - will enable us to work towards sharing means of recruiting, training and developing people across the public sector. The future leaders of public organisations must develop their talents across silos and institutional boundaries.'

The Public Sector Management Initiative in Wales

--Led by the Welsh Assembly, the initiative is being carried out in partnership with local government and the NHS

--The ultimate aim is to improve public services

--It hopes to develop, across different parts of the public sector, a common set of values and an understanding of what needs to be achieved and how

--The initial focus will be on chief executives and their senior teams, key middle managers and fast-track recruits with potential

--Skills and activities that enhance understanding and co-operation between organisations will be the priority

--Staff participating in the initiative will be able to move more readily between sectors

--It is hoped that it will improve the reputation of the Welsh public sector and enhance the image of the Welsh Asssembly as an exemplary employer.

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