Good Practice in Workforce Change – a guide from Audit Scotland

Audit Scotland's Public Sector Workforce good practice guide
Audit Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce good practice guide

The Auditor General for Wales published the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! improvement study yesterday. We thought this would be a great opportunity to share a good practice guide we like from Audit Scotland on workforce planning – aimed in particular at those involved in scrutinising workforce change programmes.

Scrutiny plays an important role in helping public services improve during challenging financial times. This includes scrutinising and challenging workforce plans and workforce change programmes. In particular, effective scrutiny can support good decisions while allocating resources and provide strategic direction on workforce planning. Unfortunately, as Audit Scotland’s guide explains, “this applies in particular to decisions to reduce workforces; without careful planning workforce reductions can lead to a loss of essential skills; reductions in service quality; and increased pressure on, and lack of motivation among, remaining staff.” So, getting it right is important and good scrutiny plays an important role in this.

Of course, the make up of public sector organisations within and between Wales and Scotland can differ significantly. Organisations could take core good practice considerations from this guide and then adapt these to suit their own needs and risks.

Audit Scotland’s document provides guidance on what good looks like in all stage of workforce planning:

  • developing the workforce plan;
  • selecting different approaches to manage workforce numbers and costs;
  • implementing workforce change (including assigning responsibility and reviewing); and
  • scrutiny of workforce plans and change programmes.

These include some useful key steps to follow, principles of good governance in early departure schemes and case studies from Midlothian Council and NHS Lanarkshire.

Particularly of interest to us, considering the publication of the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! study, is the emphasis the guide places on good practice in scrutiny of workforce planning. Part 2 of the document comprises a useful list of questions based on good practice to help “promote review and reflection and, where necessary, provide a basis for improvement”. This complements nicely the Wales Scrutiny Officers Network ‘Outcomes and characteristics for effective local government overview and scrutiny’, in appendix 2 of the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! report.

Here are some examples of the questions:

  • Does the workforce plan support business change programmes? Does the workforce plan link to the organisation’s corporate objectives?
  • Has the affordability of each approach been tested? Is it clear how the approach will help the organisation to make the changes it needs to make?
  • It is clear who has overall responsibility for ensuring that each workforce change programme is delivered on time and according to plan?
  • Are there suitable systems in place to provide board and elected members with assurance on equality and diversity; service, performance and productivity impacts; and staff wellbeing?

So, we thought this was worth sharing as good practice guide to help those engaged in both workforce planning and scrutiny.

There are quite a few other places to look if you’d like more information about workforce planning or scrutiny:

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