The Bourne Redundancy

In which I suggest a case where ‘localism’ doesn’t in fact lead to the best overall outcome…

I don’t actually know whether Bourne Town Council need to make anyone redundant – as a Parish they probably face at worst a static income, and have relatively few staff with a total turnover of about £150k a year, but the title sprang to mind so I’m using it. In any event, on the occasion of noticing that the excellent Redundant Public Servant is gainfully employed again, I found myself wondering what the effect is of the extent to which public sector vacancies are now “internal applicants only”.

I can see, and accept, that if you are restructuring a team, say from 20 staff to 15, and changing the job roles, but not the overall function of the team, that there’s a logical case to be made for giving the 20 first refusal on the 15 jobs. That’s fair, and likely to be less expensive than advertising widely and then making them all redundant. However, the practice of only recruiting internally has now spread far more widely – in some cases it is the default policy of entire public sector organisations. I think this is bonkers – a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’.

My main problem with it, is that much of this is a zero-sum game. For most public sector jobs, the majority of applicants will be from other public sector employers. The argument that Mary, who has worked at Badgerton District Council on their Health Partnership, should be prevented from applying for jobs in the community liaison team at Badgerton General Hospital, which James, the community health statistics officer at Badgerton Primary Care Trust should be unable to apply for a job as Technical Adviser to the Badgershire Health and Wellbeing Board, seems to me bonkers.

Sure, we’re all making redundancies and we want to make as few as possible, meaning “natural wastage” a l’outrance, but it cannot be impossible to design a system which accounts for this, for example by nationalising some of the costs of redundancy, or by implementing a “dowry” by which an organisation seeking to downsize compensates another in the same position for taking on one of its staff. To do otherwise seems to me a guarantee that people will be in roles they would not ideally choose, and roles will be filled by people who would not be the first choice for them, either.

It also creates a stark division between the “in” and the “out” group; I’m likely to be far more resistant to redundancy (I haven’t even been offered it yet – remarkable in my view given the current pressures facing the sector) if I believe that I will then be locked out of applying for a string of local public sector jobs in the future. I’m also far less geographically mobile if my only promotion prospects are within the organisation for which I currently work – which is fine until I have, say, an ill relative, or a change of circumstances, or a partner who gets relocated.

Is it just me?

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4 responses to “The Bourne Redundancy

  1. No, probably not just you, but is the situation really much different to how it’s always been?

    Internal candidates always had a massive home advantage in local government, I mean I got 3 promotions (all at the 1st attempt) in 5 years within my team, yet trying to move sideways to another team or authourity… well you’d have more chance of landing on Mars. It was actually the reason I left local government to go back to uni and do a masters, I just felt so trapped in the end.

    Undoubtedly the current climate does make things worse, but I clearly remember wishing there was some kind of filter when it came to searching for local government jobs on the web; something you could click on to remove the posts with a pre-annointed internal candidate so you wouldn’t have to waste your time!

    In my opinion the system has always been broke. Teams suffered from a lack of dynamism that new-blood could bring in and people did feel trapped in jobs they had lost their enthusiasm for.

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      Yeah my main historic concern at applying when it’s clear there is general change going on has always been less the fear that I’d be overlooked for an internal candidate, and more that I’d be stuck in a team of three, the other two of whom thought they should have had the job instead of me.

  2. Could the “open to internal applicants only stance” not simply be explained by the government imposed freeze on recruitment?

    • thelocalgovernmentofficer

      I don’t think such a government-imposed freeze exists on local government. That’s the consequence of the funding policy, and that’s how some authorities are dealing with it, but I don’t think it’s inevitable, particularly not with a ‘dowry’ system.

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