Oliver Letwin, minister for public service reform and overall Government policy is reported (The Observer 31st July 2011) as having said that public service staff including teachers and nurses would be more productive if they feel fear.
This extraordinary assertion contradicts the experience of staff and most managers in the public and private sectors. And it seems to contradict the Government's often made statements that it values public sector employees and wants to enable them to demonstrate professional leadership.
There is significant evidence of a strong correlation between public service outcomes and the motivation of those employed to deliver them. Fear is unlikely to motivate anyone. This is not the same as suggesting that there should be no change. Change is essential and inevitable but is best achieved with consent.
Public service employees and their unions themselves must not tolerate poor performance and must be ready to adapt and accept change. Change and often radical change is unavoidable and the questions are "what change?" and "how will it be achieved?" Change has to be designed to secure better outcomes and usually for much lower costs than the current ones. Costs can be best reduced by improving productivity and not by cutting terms and conditions or imposing a climate of fear.
Public service employees and those employed in the private and third sectors to deliver publicly funded public services are already deeply worried about security of employment, their pensions and their terms and conditions - and some public sector employers are unilaterally imposing cuts to these. Many staff are also as deeply worried about the impact of public expenditure cuts on the services that they deliver and consequential implications for service users and the wider community.
The Coalition Government has already added to public service employee fears by the abolition of the so called "two tier code". This required private and third sector contractors to employ new recruits on terms and conditions no less favourable than those staff who had transferred under TUPE regulations when services are outsourced.
The Coalition Government has subsequently indicated its intention to abandon the "Fair Deal on Pensions" requirement that staff transferred to the private and third sectors delivering public services should have comparable pensions to those in the public sector. A consequence of this could be to further diminish the funds available to funded schemes such as the Local Government Pension Scheme.
The abolition of the "two tier" code and the "Fair Deal on Pensions" will make public sector staff much more anxious at the prospect of being transferred to the private and third sectors. This change at a time when the Government, of course, is encouraging a greater role for the private and third sectors in public service delivery, will do little to win the hearts and minds of public service employees.
The Government's ambition for a greater role of markets in public services will inevitably mean, as Oliver Letwin is quoted as saying, that some providers will survive and some will not. Whether a provider is efficient and effective will be much more as a result of the quality of the provider's management and leadership, and the behaviours of commissioners than the actions of staff.
Public service employees across the public sector and for many employed in the private and third sector already have deep worries about their futures. Deliberately introducing more fear would be disastrous. Instead, the Government should acknowledge the importance of staff - and their trade unions - being fully engaged in the reform programme.
Oliver Letwin would be right to argue that under-performance should be addressed. Underperformance has to be analysed and the causes understood. It may be due the attitudes or behaviours of individual employees or because of a failure of management or as a result of a structural problem. Remedy requires effective and fair performance management arrangements for individuals with the opportunity for training and support where necessary; but with the sanctions of disciplinary measures and dismissal being available.. Likewise poor performing organisations in whatever sector cannot be allowed to disadvantage service users and misuse public funds
It is in the mutual interests of staff, employers and service users for staff to be motivated and well rewarded; and to achieve higher productivity. These tend to be key ingredients in any successful enterprise. Indeed this is one reason why the Government wishes public sector staff to establish employee co-operatives to provide public services. Such initiatives should not be driven by the fear be seen as positive opportunities for staff.
Rather than advocating fear based approaches the Government would be better to
Promote, encourage and incentivise exemplary employment practice across all public service providers - private, public and third sector
Recognise that staff have much to contribute to understanding the opportunities to improve productivity, reduce costs and improve outcomes
Promote and encourage all public service providers in all sectors to actively involve their staff and their trade unions in strategic decisions and service redesign programmes
Encourage public sector employers to facilitate staff and provide them with resources to consider the options to establish employee owned/led co-operatives and/or social enterprises (this is already Government policy); and extend the same right to staff working for private sector contractors
Re-state its commitment to the letter and spirit of TUPE regulations
Re-consider its position on "Fair Deal on Pensions"
Negotiate and avoid the imposition of changes to terms and conditions including the public pension schemes
Agree effective performance management
Require the application of "living wages" across all public services
ensure that all public service employees has access to personal and organisational development programmes
Monitor the impact of its recent abolition of the "two tier code"
The founder of our greatest public service the NHS Aneurin Bevan wrote a book entitled "In Place of Fear". In 2011 we need to place employee "motivation" in place of "fear."