Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the Public Services Committee Fit for the future? Rethinking the public services workforce (1st Report, HL Paper 48).
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to talk about this today. I hope I get through it without losing my voice, and I apologise to the House for having a cold.
This is the third report from the Public Services Committee and continues our previous work focused on making sure that public services across the board can be fit for the future. The public services workforce—teachers, nurses, social workers and others—is really facing a crisis. Demand for services is going up and the number of people available to deliver them is going down. This is an inescapable demographic fact, and it will get worse. People are overstretched, underpaid and unable to deliver what is asked of them. We received compelling evidence that those in our valued workforce really do not feel valued at all and are voting with their feet, leaving the jobs they have loved to work elsewhere. Staff who remain are expected to deliver more and more. This has a real effect on us all—on the public. We can clearly see this in recent daily reports of crises in the health service: delays, waiting lists and patients in danger. This is not a new story.
Here are two examples, although the problem goes throughout the public sector. The NHS and social care have more than 100,000 vacancies, and the Government missed the recruitment target for teachers in STEM subjects by 46% this year. So the staff who are in post are not having a good time of it. We heard that staff across public services were suffering, exhausted and overstretched, facing unmanageable workloads. Many feel disempowered and unrecognised.
We heard far too many reports of bullying and discrimination towards women, people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities working in the public services. We also heard from some of them who wanted to work in a public service, but the service was simply not able to adapt to employing them. In the report we call for much more flexibility in how services are organised and therefore delivered.
We know the workforce is in crisis, but it is not unsolvable. What is required is for the Government to really get a grip of the situation. Recruitment targets are all very well, but we need to see action to boost staff numbers and make sure that people stay in those jobs.
The Government’s response to our report was not quite as quick as I was hearing in the previous debate, but we eventually got it and I thank the Government for that. Although the Government agreed with “all the Committee’s recommendations”, they did not indicate the step change we were arguing for in thinking about how the workforce for the future in the public sector is developed. The response set out activity in individual departments. While some actions may very well prove valuable—I hope they do—there seems to be little co-ordination between departments.
One potential place for a more cross-cutting set of actions that the Government’s response did highlight was the employment Bill. The response stated that this was due in 2022. I suspect we are not going to see it in 2022, and I would be grateful if the Minister could give us an update on the progress of that Bill.
Our report includes an action plan, which sets out our priorities for securing the sustainability of the workforce. I cannot possibly speak to everything in our plan today, but I will focus on some key points. The first is prioritising preventive services to reduce demand and improve outcomes for the public, for patients in health, for children and young people in education, and so on. Another is taking more flexible approaches to recruiting, training and employing public services staff. We learned a lot about this during Covid and we should not forget some of those lessons. The other points are improving retention through addressing career progression and training issues and thinking more imaginatively about how staff can be empowered and deployed more effectively. I also stress that the response to this crisis needs to be strategic and across government.
Putting more time and more money into preventive services is essential. It means that we can nip problems in the bud before they become too large, complex and entrenched. This not only will reduce demand for public services but is in many cases what public services staff actually want to do. I have seen examples around the country where local authorities have worked in a different way with their staff, giving them much more authority over tackling a problem rather than meeting a set of criteria. That has absolutely transformed their commitment and the outcomes for the public. We know that it also reduces distress and pressure on the people experiencing the service, as well as the people delivering it. Despite this, we see that preventive services are being cut. The Health Foundation reports that the public health grant, for example, has been cut by 24% on a real-terms per person basis since 2015-16, and that this has been greater in more deprived areas.
Of course, people have to want to come and work in the public sector. Perhaps the less we say on advertising and branding the better. We had an extraordinary evidence session, with people giving different examples of how they recruited in the public and private sectors. We heard that in the public sector it was “unappealing” and “stale”, and that job applications could take up to six months. It took people a long time to complete the application forms. There are other ways of doing this and the public sector has to get up to speed. These are easy fixes, but on which no commitments have been made.
Fundamentally, though, we have to offer more: more flexibility, more opportunities, and a better work/life balance. We also have to make sure that we are not closing ourselves off to talented candidates who cannot afford the training. Multiyear degree requirements, which land people thousands of pounds in debt, are no longer sustainable for our key workers. This is often a hard message for the professional organisations but it is one that must be given.
Our best way round this—apprenticeships—is underutilised in the public services. Apprentices make up an average of only 1.7% of staff in large public sector employers. Although there has been some welcome progress, the Government have not reinstated the apprenticeship target, asked employers about difficulties in hiring them, or begun to sort out the funding for them in a sustainable way.
We were struck by local examples of how to address these problems. Camden Council actively targets people who volunteered during the pandemic—people who worked in food banks, for example, and volunteers in libraries and other public services. It developed a talent pool, signposts people to roles, offers appropriate courses for them to do basic training and helps them with their CVs to make sure that the workforce of tomorrow is more reflective of its local community, resilient, and representative. We called for significant investment and leadership to replicate this elsewhere, but the Government’s response made no commitments on this.
Alongside recruiting new workers, we need to make sure that we keep the excellent people we already have in the public service workforce. This is not currently the reality. There are many reasons for poor retention in public services, but we also know that pay is a perennial issue. As the country faces a cost of living crisis, the Government need to accept the simple reality that if public services workers cannot afford to feed their families or keep their homes warm, they will leave. The current swathe of strikes has affected this debate. Several of my committee members are unable to be here as they needed to get back to where they come from. The train strike prevented them speaking today, so this is the appropriate time to give their apologies.
The Trussell Trust recently reported that nurses and teaching assistants now rely on food banks to stay afloat, and during our inquiry we heard that care workers were moving to work for supermarkets, Amazon or whatever to get better pay. As I said, the ongoing strikes demonstrate that this is a serious issue.
However, this is not just about pay. We heard about struggles to develop careers in public services. Health Education England told us that staff too often feel like
“‘rota fodder’, rather than a future resource to be nurtured.”
In a jobs market where people increasingly move around to get different experience and develop “portfolio careers”, we need to make sure that public service employers are supporting staff to grow and develop, instead of the situation where training is not funded or prioritised in services.
One area where this was particularly stark was social care. We heard that care staff in particular struggled to get their skills and experience recognised. The Government are in the process of developing a “knowledge and skills framework” to address this. I hope the Minister can provide an update on how that is progressing.
Alongside efforts to boost recruitment and retention, to address the crisis in the public services workforce we need creative and innovative thinking about how services can be delivered and staff deployed. During the pandemic, Wigan council gave its workers the opportunity to do some work on the front line. That transformed their idea about what the job was about, what they could do and how they could do it. It boosted the retention and involvement of workers. I know that some NHS trusts are supporting staff to develop skills through secondments and so on. We need to take the long view that that sort of work will help staff stay in public services, rather than just the specific job they were recruited for.
We also heard all sorts of examples of the untapped potential of public services staff needing to be used. We met a physician associate. They have to have a degree and then do three years of training, but they are still not allowed to do things such as prescribing, if they work in a GP practice. They are not allowed to do a whole round of things, nor are they allowed to transfer to be a doctor; they would have to start again. This is nonsense. The Government need to take on the restrictive practices of professional bodies and, with regulators, help change that sort of thing.
There were other things I wanted to say, but my voice is going and my time is up. I thank everyone who gave evidence and all the members of the committee. I thank the staff of the committee for their work on the inquiry: Tom Burke, Claire Coast-Smith, Sam Kenny, Daphné Leprince-Ringuet, Aimal Fatima Nadeem and Tristan Stubbs. They all worked really hard, with the team changing over in the middle. We thank them all.
I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, not only on getting through those 15 minutes with a cold but on the report. I also congratulate and thank the members of the committee, as well as the staff who the noble Baroness mentioned.
One of my passions is local civil society. I first became interested in this area as a PhD student, when I read a book by David Green, a former Labour councillor, called Reinventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics. He wrote about the country’s rich history of civil society organisations, such as mutuals, friendly societies and trade unions, which used to provide adult education, insurance, medical and other services; what we would today call public services. Since then, I have taken a real interest in local civil society, an interest shared by noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins.
I approach the report and this debate based on my experiences. First, when working as academic and research director at an economic think tank, it was clear to me that we needed to think about demographic changes and their impact on public services. I should refer noble Lords to my register of interests. Secondly, this is based on my recent experience of being a Health Minister, however briefly, faced with the current and future challenges of our system of health and social care. I am grateful to many noble Lords across the House for conversations and advice on addressing these challenges during my time at the Department of Health and Social Care, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who I see here and who helped me many times. Thirdly, when I was a Member of the European Parliament for London, I was inspired by and helped to publicise local community and neighbourhood civil society projects across London. They addressed many of the issues found in local communities; for example, training NEETs or using sport to help teach children who had been excluded from school due to behaviour problems. There were local charities helping the homeless, including a fantastic project helping former drug dealers to turn their entrepreneurial skills to becoming sandwich dealers—I will not say what was in the sandwiches—projects working with ex-offenders, anti-radicalisation projects and many more. When in October the current Prime Minister decided that my services as Minister for Civil Society, my dream job, were no longer required, I was able to return to my passion projects. One of these is to help local community champions set up neighbourhood non-state civil society projects.
Having read the report, I found myself agreeing with a number of its recommendations, but today I will focus on two or three. During my time at the Department of Health and Social Care, it was obvious that we have so much more to learn about health and well-being and so much research to do. One example is our increased awareness and understanding of mental health conditions—I look to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who often raised this issue—compared to even 30 years ago, when the response used to be something like, “Stiff upper lip!” or “Pull yourself together.” Think about PTSD, which was recognised only in the 1980s. Looking back, we realise that shell shock from the First World War was a form of PTSD. I remember preparing for a debate on neurological conditions. When I rather naively asked my officials to send me a list of all the neurological conditions they knew of, I received the answer, “But Minister, there are more than 600”—600 conditions, many of which will require more research to understand and more resources to address.
While people are living for longer physically, they are not always living in good mental health for as long, so demand for these services, as well as existing services, is increasing. As the report says, our ageing population means that
“The proportion of the population with multiple and complex needs will rise further, even as the labour market available will be smaller.”
In simple terms, the number of people paying into the Government’s piggy bank will get smaller, as the number of people receiving public services paid out of it increases.
As the noble Baroness alluded to, contributors to the report argued that
“long-term thinking must consider different ways to boost workforce numbers, such as UK training routes and immigration”,
efficiency, data, and flexible and creative deployment of staff. The report argues that we need all of these, but advances in technology and flexibility alone will not solve the skills gap. We will need some immigration.
After the war, when the UK faced a workforce shortage, it was immigrants from mainly Commonwealth countries who saved our public services. Take my own family. My father came here to work on the railways and as a bus driver; his brother came to work as a postman; his sister as a nurse. We will need more immigration, especially from those countries that train more people than they have jobs for domestically and that see receiving overseas remittances as far more effective than receiving foreign aid. I hope we can change the debate on immigration from one of numbers to one of filling the skills gaps and vacancies.
The third important point that stood out was the recognition that public services do not always mean state-provided services. On more than one occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, has reminded the House that the state cannot do it all. It has to work with civil society and the private sector. The report rightly recognises that
“The voluntary sector can add immense value to public service delivery”.
I have seen and worked with a number of projects. I think of a local mosque offering IT training to its congregation; the local council partnered with it to offer wider, more cost-effective delivery for the council and a bit of income for the local charity—a win-win situation. But while this is a win-win situation, we have to be careful and not expect all charities to become social enterprises and support public services. I have also seen projects fail when they have turned their attention to government contracts as opposed to growing organically and helping local people. I remember an owner of a gym who said that the people who worked there did not need qualifications but social skills. They needed to turn up on time, smile, be clean and learn not to say, “Computer says no.” He said that that was what he had to do. Sadly, this is one of those projects that expanded too quickly and failed, in anticipation of government contracts. While we should encourage social enterprises to bid for public contracts, they still face a number of barriers, as the report rightly says. It says that we need
“a fundamental shift in how the public sector works with voluntary partners”
and the private sector.
There are many other points which I could address, but I will leave that to other noble Lords. It is an excellent report. I cannot cover all the points, but I will end with a question for my noble friend the Minister. Can she tell noble Lords what the Government are doing across departments to include civil society, and indeed private sector partners, in better delivering public services so that we all gain?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, whose speech reminds us that his tenure as Minister for Civil Society was all too short. It has been a privilege to serve on the Public Services Committee, so wisely and ably chaired by my noble friend Lady Armstrong. I know, as she said, that many more Members would have liked to speak in this debate, had the timing been more propitious.
Our report on the workforce was very much on my mind this week when I had a hospital procedure. It was carried out with the efficiency, care and commitment that we rightly expect and get from the NHS, but I was struck by the air of disillusionment among the staff—the weariness and the acceptance that, as one member of staff said, “It’s never going to change, is it? We’re always going to be ignored.” Their department is constantly short of staff, with staff constantly covering for each other and running to catch up. Most of all, you can sense the despair of staff who feel they are falling short and not meeting patients’ needs in the way they would like. I emphasise that this was not the case, as the service was in fact efficient and caring, but I worried about the price being paid by those who deliver it. The conclusions of our report were emphasised again for me this week as a patient: services in crisis, serious staff shortages and very low morale.
We were frustrated in our inquiry by the lack of willingness to take this workforce crisis sufficiently seriously, as though it were a blip, caused perhaps by the pandemic or Brexit, which would somehow get better of itself with time. Yet of course the inescapable fact is that demand for services will rise faster than the working-age population, as will the number of people with complex and multiple needs. Staff numbers cannot presently keep up with demands and the problem is only going to get worse.
In spite of the crisis we are facing, however, our report is not all gloom and doom. The problems are solvable if we tackle them robustly, making a substantial difference and securing a more sustainable workforce for the future, but we are required to be imaginative and innovative.
Why do people work in public service? It is certainly not for the money, nor usually for the status or recognition. What you get in public service is the satisfaction, even the reward, of knowing that you are somehow contributing to the betterment of society, whether as an individual, a group or an institution. Take away that satisfaction and you might ask yourself: why do it? You can earn more stacking shelves in the supermarket.
We have relied for too long on the good will of employees—to stay on at the end of a shift, for example, or cover for a sick colleague. We must harness that good will by empowering the workforce and ensuring that services meet the needs of the consumers, not the ideas of the planners. We have powerful examples from users of services of the need for training to highlight the importance of so-called co-production—that is, designing services with the help of those who will use them—and how it can save money as well as more effectively meet the needs of users.
It is clear that such co-production also brings job satisfaction and starts to tackle low morale. In turn, this leads to greater retention of staff and is a more attractive offer when we look at how public service staff are recruited. As my noble friend has reminded us, however, and as many of our witnesses told us, recruitment takes too long, is too inflexible and has a dated format.
Skills in the public sector are precious but not always as readily recognised as they should be. I have lost track of the number of former carers who have told me that they were unsuccessful in applying for public service jobs. All the skills they acquired as unpaid carers—which are a lot, and include not just practical but administrative skills—were dismissed as irrelevant because they did not conform to a rigid job description or person specification.
It is important to note that what we need to tackle our workforce crisis—I emphasise that it is a crisis—is a strategy embraced by all government departments which takes account of the different needs of all parts of our workforce and emphasises flexibility. As an example, we wish to give all employees status, training opportunities and recognition, but what you give a doctor who needs seven years’ training and a guarantee of employment at the end is quite different from what you give a care worker.
The carer workforce has a 40% turnover every year. What good is registration to them? You have to compete with the competition, which, in this case, is Sainsbury’s and Lidl, and give job satisfaction, which is the only discriminating difference in choosing one occupation over another. “Training to retain” is a memorable phrase but training must encompass development opportunities and the ability to move between one service and another. I first heard the idea of a workforce that could move freely between health and social care some 40 years ago. How much progress has been made? Very little, because it requires a cultural shift in leadership, which has always been the hardest nut to crack.
Our report emphasises—as much of the work of this committee has always done—the importance of preventive services. As my noble friend has reminded us, these can effectively reduce the need for service input and thus the strain on the workforce. I hope the Minister can give the House an assurance that the Government are committed to supporting preventive work.
Avoiding the workforce crisis is no longer an option. It was gratifying and a tribute to my noble friend and the excellent staff who supported us that the Government agreed eventually—I repeat, eventually—with all our recommendations. Investment in apprenticeships and improving the recruitment, retention, progression and well-being of staff in adult social care is a start, but we should be under no illusion: there is a long way to go. I hope the Minister can give us an assurance that, as well as accepting all our recommendations, the Government are committed to implementing them.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and I too will be focusing on skills and education in workforce planning. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, and the Public Services Committee for the excellent report we are debating today.
Given that we are living in a perma-crisis, thinking about the long term appears to be a luxury, but this report demonstrates that not thinking strategically and long term adds to the crisis we face as a country in planning and managing the public sector workforce, at the same time as we face major demographic changes that will mean that public services have to change. As the health and social care spokeswoman for the Lib Dems over the past three years and, indeed, for a year in 2013-4, it feels to me as though the current NHS workforce crisis has been growing, first slowly, and now rapidly, over recent decades, long before Covid-19 arrived in early 2020. There are not enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough GPs or pharmacists, and Government after Government have said that they would increase numbers but have increasingly relied on qualified professionals from abroad, because those same Governments—of all colours—would not invest in training, education and workforce planning for these key roles.
So this report rightly resists the short term, because thinking about only the current crisis and not understanding how the lack of planning has significantly worsened the current position remains a problem. Having effective long-term and medium-term workforce planning that links all elements of the pipeline—from schools, through to apprenticeships and further and higher education—and understanding how changes in delivering services must necessarily affect planning for the workforce on a rolling cycle, is a key benefit.
One such issue, mentioned briefly by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, is the training of the teaching workforce, especially in STEM subjects. Every conclusion and recommendation in the report could have been written about this issue alone. Over the past decade, the overall number of qualified teachers in state-funded schools has not kept pace with increasing pupil numbers. In particular, there is a problem with attracting enough trainee teachers to start in the secondary sector, and it is growing fast. Worse, there are not and have not been enough trainees coming forward to teach STEM subjects, especially physics. This was a problem 15 years ago, and too frequently results in stoical teachers who are not qualified in maths and physics having to step up to the role.
This is a real problem. The report points out the growth of technology in the delivery of public services and asks that workforce planning and service delivery ensure that new ways of working are prepared for carefully. But the problem is already evident in our schools system, and local authorities no longer have the role they had when I was chair of education and libraries in Cambridgeshire in the 1990s, when we were able to work with our local authority schools and parents to encourage and support STEM teachers and STEM subjects. That was especially important in Cambridge as it became a technology city. All that is now fragmented.
We need to change our secondary education system to ensure that all pupils and students continue with maths and science subjects until they leave school. Your Lordships’ House has had many debates on this subject. However, that aspiration remains unhelpful if there are not enough teachers to teach those subjects. Under our current public service delivery structures, who thinks about the pipeline for teacher training, let alone ensuring that in the UK in the mid-21st century, trainees in the public services arrive from their schools, universities and apprenticeships with the breadth of education they need for a technological future in which the skills of language and communication will also remain paramount? I am not sure that it is evident, certainly not when funding for public services is so stretched. Will the Minister say not just how the Government will help achieve the aspirations of this report, but how they will ensure that the all the stakeholders in the pipeline are involved and understand that they have a key role in making it happen?
I also commend the report for recommending the involvement of service users with lived experience, as well as the need to involve voluntary sector bodies and urging a more flexible process. The Minister knows that your Lordships’ House has discussed the voluntary sector and social enterprises a great deal recently in the Procurement Bill, but the report goes a step further and asks for a key shift in how the public sector works with the voluntary sector. On these Benches, we have always strongly advocated for vocational and professional education, and I echo the report’s concerns about the Government’s removal of the apprenticeship target, and that in seeking to search for and combat these challenges they are doing the opposite.
As the founding chair of the Cambridgeshire Learning and Skills Council in 1998, I particularly welcome paragraph 29 in the summary of conclusions, which says:
“To boost retention and support staff to progress into more senior roles, the Government should work with regulators to develop straightforward and practicable ways to recognise, assess, and record prior learning and experience using a competency approach.”
That, along with creative thinking outside some of the rigid qualification tramlines of the past, is beginning to change progression for those in care and nursing, but the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is right that there is a long way to go.
Thirty years ago, we still had a barrier between state enrolled nurses and state registered nurses. The former would now be referred to as care nurses, usually identified solely by entry qualification, while SRNs were those who continued the more academic education with a higher qualification. The barrier between them was insurmountable but, thankfully, that is changing. Now the pathways from apprenticeships into care can lead not just to being a registered nurse but beyond degree level to nurse practitioners working in specialised areas and able to prescribe medication—unimagined 15 years ago. While admirable, though, that will not work without effective workforce planning. As the report says, demographic changes and the differing treatments that patients receive compared to even five years ago mean that awareness is important and recruitment into health pathways and on into work must be planned years ahead.
To conclude, we know there is some good progress in some areas, but overall the real problem persists. Until national and local government can create the capacity to think strategically and long-term to implement the recommendations, they will remain aspirations. I hope the Government will be able to confirm that they can deliver the framework for that step change.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for her chairing of our committee, her patience and her common sense in building our at times passionate arguments into an excellent report that we all supported. I thank her. I declare my interest as stated in the register.
The report highlights the significant challenge faced by any Government in planning the human resource needs of our public services, particularly at the moment. We have an ageing population and are still suffering the consequences of Covid, the Ukraine war, energy price rises and the constant inflationary pressure on our economy, particularly wage inflation—all this, ironically, at a time of high employment.
The report argues that, first, we must therefore act imaginatively about how public services are deployed and that, secondly, traditional routes into public service are limiting and that action needs to be taken to make them more accessible. I shall concentrate on those two points particularly in relation to the police service—of which I have some experience—where they occur not quite in the same context as in some of the other public services that we have talked about, for reasons that I hope I will be able to explain if I have time, such as health and social services.
The police service has been challenged about its ability to adapt to society and, frankly, some appalling behaviour by a number of officers, particularly in the Metropolitan Police. I would argue that the causes of the present cultural challenges are to some extent structural, and radical reforms will be needed to produce significant change. I hope to make suggestions as well as identifying problems.
The police remains a male-dominated culture, with two-thirds of them men and one-third women, though half of the recruits now are female, who consistently perform better than men in the recruit selection process. The challenge is that the police, contrary to the rest of the public services, has a very low turnover. A healthy turnover in any organisation is accepted as being between 8% and 12%. That allows new talent to join and the people who are unsuitable to leave. In the police service the turnover is around 5%, and even in London it is only around 6%. In my view, that is too low, trapping people who are unsuitable but too comfortable with the terms and conditions or, as Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has argued, who cannot be removed by the organisation because of the independent chairing of misconduct panels and other protections that apply.
I propose three major changes that could make a real difference. The first comes under the category of “boring but true”. Police pensions need to become more flexible to be transferable. At the moment, officers pay around 15% of their salary for a good scheme. However, they get the best benefits by remaining in service. The system does certainly not encourage them to leave, even when they are unsuitable, because they cannot take the pension with them and maintain their benefits in other pension funds.
The second is that the time has come to seriously consider whether the office of constable would be better protected as an employee. The office of constable is there to provide two broad protections. First, politicians and senior police officers cannot direct a constable how to use their discretionary powers to arrest and detain, although they can of course be held to account in the courts. Secondly, it is intended to provide a protection against malicious allegations by criminals under investigation. Therefore, the terms and conditions, including misconduct rules, are found in secondary legislation—police regulations. This means an officer can be represented legally at a misconduct hearing which is chaired by a legally qualified person, because in theory they have no access to an employment tribunal. However, should they allege that the misconduct process involves illegal discrimination, they can access an employment tribunal—essentially having two bites of the cherry—and many do.
The office of constable also means that it is impossible for an officer to easily become a police staff member or vice versa. This is particularly inflexible should an officer be physically unable to carry out their role as a constable, for which the principal remedy is a medical pension, when they could easily have transferred to become a police staff member should they have the appropriate skills. I ask the Government to consider the New Zealand model, which protects the office of constable in a contract of employment. I see no evidence that New Zealand’s police are being directed by politicians. It also happens to be a national police force, not 43 forces—but that is probably for another day.
My third point is about the routes of entry into the service, which could be improved. The service is properly proud that every officer, including myself, served on the streets before becoming a chief or commissioner. However, I believe that a diversity of recruitment routes for constables and senior officers produces more diversity of ideas and better representation. The turnover of 5%, followed by 20 to 25 years to reach the highest rank, does not assist that in any way.
During my period as commissioner, we introduced Police Now, which mimicked Teach First. Hundreds of graduates who had not initially thought about becoming a police officer were employed for two years with 85% remaining after those two years. We introduced direct entry for detectives, where people who had never been an officer were recruited only to be a detective, and accelerated promotions for graduates which led to them usually becoming a chief inspector within five years. Those three schemes continue today.
We also introduced direct entry for superintendents. Hospital chief executives, merchant bankers, military officers and directors of counterterrorism for the Home Office were recruited to lead and, after two years of training and mentoring, were given full leadership responsibilities. We had direct entry for inspectors who, within two years of training, were given that role. We also changed the recruitment rules so that people who had lived in London for three of the last six years got priority, as well as those who spoke one of 19 languages which were prevalent in the communities of London. These latter three ideas were abandoned by a service that truly never wanted or believed in them.
My final point is on one thing that we have to guard against with surges in recruitment. The police service lost 20,000 officers as an inevitable consequence of public service cuts. There was then a surge in recruitment, which has led to that 20,000 being pushed back in. About 50,000 will probably be pushed back in within five years. Inevitably, the vetting will be poor. There will be a push against recruiting standards. Numbers will be delivered, but I worry about the standards. We will see the consequences of that over the next 10 years. It is difficult to remedy a gap of 20,000 without rapidly recruiting, but it is an obvious danger we all suffer from.
I not only support the measures I have mentioned, but I support the Home Office strategy on accrediting police training to university standard. This is not saying that all officers who join should be graduates, although half of them are. It means that their training is accredited to an independent standard and that they can use those skills in other employment, should it be accredited to that level. Unless we think more radically and broadly about police training and selection, sadly we will inevitably see some of the challenges of the past in the future.
My Lords, I welcome the report and the introduction to it by my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top. It is wide-ranging and authoritative, and issues have been raised clearly by earlier speakers. It will be no great surprise that I shall focus on recommendation 18, which is about pensions. It calls for
“a comprehensive review of how pensions operate across the public services workforce.”
The wording implies “comprehensive” in the sense that it will look at flexibility and changing jobs within and outside the public service, and how pensions interact with the need to achieve an adequate and effective workforce.
I want to choose my words carefully in saying —I hope, helpfully—that this is not necessarily the strongest part of the report. It appears to be based on misconceptions raised in evidence sessions. In this respect, the Government’s response to the report has been most helpful—that is not something I say very often. Nevertheless, questions remain. One is about the plan for consolidating smaller schemes, which has been on hold—it would be useful if the Minister could say a bit about that—and, in particular, whether this process is to be undertaken in negotiation with the relevant trade unions and whether members’ benefit expectations are protected.
The main question is whether the Government can say explicitly that a comprehensive review of public service pensions as a whole is not required, at least until the agreement freely entered into by the Government following the Hutton review, which took place only just over 10 years ago, has expired. Public service pensions are controversial, but we do have a deal and the deal was promised for a generation. It would be useful if the Government could make it plain that they do not have any plans to look again at public service pensions. I shall come on to explain why they are so important in the context of maintaining an effective workforce in the public service. I would be content with a “the Government have no plans” formulation; it would just be useful to hear it in those words.
The report refers to public service pensions as being “attractive”—I prefer “attractive” to “generous”, which is often used in the context of public service pensions. The word “generous” is quite wrong. It implies a motive on the part of the employer that I have never come across in the negotiations in which I have been involved. It is part and parcel of the terms and conditions of employment. It is part of a deal and part of the contract of employment: you provide the work, and you get the benefits of employment—generosity has no part in that process. In the public service, we have good pensions—I prefer “adequate”—but that does not make them generous. Truly, the sort of pension which public service workers receive is what all workers should be able to look forward to. There is a clear objective of levelling up; we do not want to see public service pensions dragged down to the level which is still all too prevalent in the private sector, where it is generally agreed that automatic enrolment contributions are inadequate and need to be increased.
The cost of a pension has two elements: the cost to the employee within the employment package—they provide a service and get a package of benefits—and the benefit to the employer of having a pension scheme. Therefore, a good pension scheme serves the interests of not just the employee but the employer. Employers, including those in the public services, need to recruit and retain staff, and an attractive pension scheme is clearly a big element in achieving that. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, referred to making changes to the scheme to encourage people to leave a particular employment, but that is not why employers provide pension schemes: they provide them to keep people in.
It used to be the case that people who left their pension schemes lost all, or virtually all, of the value of their benefits. It was only after the introduction of legislation, which changed the rules, that people who leave employment now get a decent deal from their pension. It used to be the situation that, when you left employment, you got a worse deal than if you stayed; and, if you stayed in public service pension schemes, your pay increased in line with your earnings. However, that changed following the Hutton review, and pay now increases because of the average salary-type scheme, which is in line with prices. In fact, because prices are going up faster than wages in the public sector, people are actually better off with the prices revaluation. That issue needs to be looked at, and I would welcome hearing the Government indicate that they are prepared to have those discussions, rather than producing a fundamental and comprehensive review of all public service pensions.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, and her Select Committee on producing the report. Its carefully considered, cross-party conclusions and recommendations surely highlight both the added value which your Lordships’ House brings to the UK’s legislative process and how much would be lost by its abolition.
Time does not allow me to address all 16 recommendations, so I shall focus on seven of them from the perspective of a person with lived experience of disability, as a service user, and as the chair of two commissions—first, the excellent Centre for Social Justice’s disability commission, which reported in 2021, and, more recently, the Institute of Directors’ commission on harnessing diverse talent for success—which recently produced separate but complementary business and policy white papers, both of which are available in the Library.
My noble friend the Minister may not have seen the white papers—I would be delighted to share them with her—but I hope that she would agree with the thrust of our conclusions, perhaps even with all our recommendations, which echo many of the points we are discussing today. Clearly, a powerful precedent has been set in the Government’s positive response to the report—but I must not get carried away. Perhaps the director-general of the IoD, Jonathan Geldart, who chose me deliberately as a person with lived experience as the IoD’s disability commission’s chair, had a premonition of what was in the report. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, thanked the clerks of the Select Committee and her advisers for their help; I know that I was no less reliant on the IoD’s excellent senior policy adviser, Alexandra Hall-Chen.
I welcome this report’s focus on workforce data. This is not woke—this is pure common sense. Data underpins organisational success, whether in the public, private or voluntary sector. I urge the Government to facilitate transparent and consistent workforce data through mandatory reporting. Tom Pursglove, the new Minister for Disabled People in the other place, has recently launched an outline disability action plan. What gets measured gets done, so data will be essential to measurable, credible progress towards equality of opportunity.
I also welcome the report’s emphasis on the importance of engaging with service users and people with lived experience so that—and I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, will forgive me for paraphrasing—an appreciation of such an invaluable resource is embedded within the culture of both service development and delivery. Crucially, as the report rightly makes clear, engagement must be meaningful.
I suspect that my noble friend the Minister, as a former business leader herself, completely gets this. That is also why I imagine she will understand at least the thinking behind the report’s recommendations on partnership with service users and on putting that into practice through the delivery of training and the co-production of strategies—for example, those relating to children’s and family services. I would go one step further. If Tom Pursglove wants to ensure that the disability action plan does not simply become another version of the widely derided National Disability Strategy, he could make a commitment to co-production with disabled people. That would be a very powerful message of equality and respect to send to disabled people, who too often are, sadly, shown neither by the DWP.
I conclude by welcoming the report’s final recommendation on the importance of gathering, promoting and cascading best practice on the development of leadership pipelines. Your Lordships’ House has played a pivotal role in securing anti-discrimination legislation, but disabled people and disabled young people who have benefited—for example, by going through mainstream education—now need to be able to excel so that they can realise their potential and on merit reach the top. The Government have a crucial role in facilitating this.
I thank the Public Services Committee for producing the report, and I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, on this excellent report—indeed, on a series of reports that have added a lot to my knowledge of the challenges facing public services. It was an excellent idea of whoever decides these things in this place to set up a Public Services Committee, and I think that it has proved its value. I have learned a lot.
I have a few remarks to make, which may be politically sharp but which are none the less deserved. First, we will never solve the problem of the public sector workforce if the Government continue to take the view that they intend to use holding down public sector pay as a battering ram for bringing down inflation. If that is the approach, it will result in a disaster for public services. It is not just a matter of what happens this winter—it is going to be a long-term challenge to get inflation down, but we cannot do it by basically sacrificing public services. At the moment, private sector pay is going up by around 6% while public sector pay is at 2% to 3%: that is not sustainable. The Government must know that; we are losing people from the public services to the private sector, and something must be done about it.
My second point is that the Government must recognise the need for investment if we are going to save money. The willingness to put money into public services that would in fact save money is absolutely vital. The most obvious case of this is social care reform where, clearly, a lot of the problems of the NHS would be a lot less if we had a properly functioning social care system, and we are not going to have that unless we have a comprehensive reform of pay and conditions and how the whole thing is managed.
A similar example of investor-save is in the hugely escalating costs of children in care. I know this as a Cumbria county councillor—I apologise; I should have already declared that interest. The hugely escalating costs of children in care are a real problem. Josh MacAlister’s review points to a way of tackling this. It was debated in the House last week but, unfortunately, I could not be present. It is, again, an example of where you have to put some money up front if you are going to save money in the long run.
Thirdly, we need active labour market policies for the public sector. We are in a situation where workforce participation is in fact declining. This is a very serious situation for the country, and we need a strategy to get it up again. I was talking to some Swedes yesterday at a seminar. The Swedish model has always put high employee participation as a top priority. If you get high employee participation, you get the tax revenues that enable you to improve public services. So we really need a strategy for filling all these jobs—getting older workers, perhaps on a part-time basis, back into services. We need a comprehensive strategy.
My final point is that we must have radical reform. We have to be prepared to upset people—like the professional institutes. If we are going to have an expansion of the apprentice route in public services, that will upset a lot of people who think that only graduates can do the job. We have to be prepared to be tough on that. The old new Labour mantra of “investment and reform” is what public services need today more than anything else, and I would like to know what plans the Government have for both investment and reform.
My Lords, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this report and I hope that the Government are taking it seriously. It describes both the workforce crisis in our public services and the demographic crisis; they are clearly interconnected.
However, there are other things about which we should be concerned. I am certainly concerned by those elements within the Conservative Party—which one has to call the “Republican right” of the Conservative Party—who denigrate public service as such and want to privatise as much as they possibly can and shrink the state. I see that Conservative Way Forward, formerly chaired by Steve Baker and now chaired by Greg Smith, has just published a new pamphlet that says that if only all the diversity and equality aspects of public services were cut, it would save a huge amount of money and there would be room for more tax cuts.
As the report makes quite clear, at paragraph 27,
“Changes in the needs of the UK population will mean long-term growth in demand for public services”.
Since the core Conservative vote is the elderly, it seems contradictory for the Conservative Party to support cuts in public services which benefit people of my age above all, rather than people of my children’s, let alone my grandchildren’s, age.
We need a change in the attitude of the Government and their supporters to public services. I know that this does not apply to the Minister, who has worked in public services and entirely understands their value. However, the sorts of right-wing think tanks which denigrate—for example—teachers for being entirely left-wing and indoctrinating their students, according to the Sunday Telegraph, demoralise public servants. Teachers, nurses, doctors and probation officers need to feel that they are valued. They also need to be paid well. The reduction in their real pay has highlighted the issue of how much they are paid. This applies not only to teachers and nurses, but to university teachers. Last week, I had a conversation with my son, who runs a 12-person biology laboratory at Edinburgh University. He has been approached by commercial companies that have offered him over twice the salary he gets as a senior university researcher. If that gap grows, the quality of our universities—one of the things that makes this country stand high in the world—will begin to decline. Pay is a matter all the way across public services, and so is pressure.
Pressure comes in partly because cuts to some aspects of public services affect others. The splendid head teacher who taught my children mathematics as a junior teacher told me some time ago that, in the leafy part of Oxfordshire where she has her school, the disappearance of children’s officers, truancy officers and other social services means that her teachers have to take on extra roles in their students’ catchment area. That is part of the pressure that makes teachers feel underpaid and undervalued. We need an overall change in the attitude of the Government.
We also need much stronger emphasis on local provision of public services, because far too much has been centralised. The budgets of local councils have been cut and we all know that personal social services are best provided, and recruited, at local level.
Beyond that, we also know that education is important. In Saltaire, we have a further education college that does its best with remarkably little funding and low pay. Apprenticeships in Bradford are underrecruited and underpromoted. One or two superb schemes attract huge numbers of applicants, but apprenticeships have not been fully exploited and I support everything said about all that. Further education colleges have to be part of the way in which people are encouraged to move into public services.
I also flag that, as we move towards an older society, with a retirement age closer to 70 than 65, and people often working for 40 to 45 years of their lives—as I have—the question of moving from one career to another or retraining becomes all the more vital. It was interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about how the police force has adapted to that and is taking on people all the way through. I joked to my son-in-law that, when his bank finally sacks him, he will be a splendid physics teacher, as he has all the skills. The excellent new charity Now Teach has begun to catch people in their mid-40s and early 50s who will become very good teachers as second careers. That sort of thing needs to be stressed and encouraged at a national and even more at a local level.
Childcare facilities are very important. We all know that the proportion of women in the public service workforce has been rising. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, remarked on that in the police. If there are not decent, affordable childcare facilities then women cannot work when they have small children. That is another part of the package that needs to be supplied.
The role of the non-profit sector is extremely important. I did not entirely recognise the portrayal of the Procurement Bill in the Government’s response, which attempted to suggest that that Bill emphasises and values partnerships in procurement with the voluntary and social enterprise sectors. I must have missed that somehow in our consideration of the Bill. Non-profits are important, but I suspect that—as my generation, which has benefited enormously from good pensions, disappears, and those who follow me will not have such good pensions—it will be harder to find the voluntary workers in their 60s and early 70s who now sustain so many of our voluntary activities.
There are many things to learn from the report. I welcome it. I hope that those in the Government who are real Conservatives rather than libertarian right-wingers will take it seriously, and that both they and the successor Government who we all hope we will have after the next election will begin to take many of these lessons on board.
My Lords, I too thank the committee for its excellent report. It and its recommendations show the value of cross-party working. I also thank my noble friend Lady Armstrong for her excellent introduction, despite her suffering from a cold. She made all the key arguments extremely well and I am grateful for that introduction.
To emphasise cross-party consensus, I must start by saying that I really enjoyed my noble friend Lord Liddle’s contribution. Like him, I increasingly become more like an old-fashioned new Labour person.
Well, how could I change? I will continue that theme as I go through my contribution.
This report on the future of the public services workforce highlights something that we have all experienced, as I am sure everyone has, whether in failing to get a GP appointment or when visiting a relative in a care home: the “vicious circle” that the committee described of increased demand, an ageing population, staff shortages, low morale, and recruitment issues. The Government’s response is, as the committee puts it,
“at far too small a scale.”
The committee argues that its recommendations would
“make a substantial difference, and secure a more sustainable … workforce for the future.”
There is cross-party consensus on that, which is reflected in the Government’s response to the report. Unlike with many of the reports that I read from this House, the Government accepted all the recommendations. As my noble friend highlighted, there is a lack of any sense of urgency and, perhaps more importantly, of a cross-cutting strategy. I repeat the point made by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley: as well as the Government accepting the recommendations, we need a clear plan for implementation. The Government mention in their response their commitment to
“engagement with service users and people with lived experience”.
That is absolutely vital.
The Government also stated, in terms of the committee’s recommendations, that it recognised the importance of having efficient and effective technology in the delivery of high-quality public services. The interesting thing, which I will come back to, is that it is not only technology to deliver at the front end of those services, it is how the Government should use technology to make plans for that delivery. One of the things to stress, and I am sure all noble Lords in the debate have had difficulty trying, is that no one action will resolve these issues. That is why the emphasis needs to be put on co-ordination and cross-cutting proposals.
Perhaps even more importantly, I suggest to the Minister that there should be a cross-cutting department with powers to intervene and that can set strategy. I assume that the Cabinet Office currently fulfils that role, but I am not sure that it has sufficient powers within all government departments. The committee did recognise that the Government do not have reliable data on the public service workforce and projections for future demand. It is really important in her response that the Minister is clear about how the Cabinet Office highlights not only best practice—which it did in its response—but how it can promote best practice on developing and sharing workforce data at all levels, both locally and nationally.
Many noble Lords have focused on the area of developing training programmes in partnership with service users so that they reflect service users’ needs and ensure that the workforce is better prepared. One of the things that came out of the debate, which the Minister could reflect on, is, as the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, said, the issue of civil society. I did notice there was a slight change in tone in his voice when the noble Lord mentioned the words “trade unions”, as if they were a shocking part of civil society. Historically, though, they have been the key providers of services, particularly before the establishment of the National Health Service and national insurance. When I first started in the trade union movement, many of the people I worked with had been part of the support in providing national insurance benefits. Certainly, Ernest Bevin was very keen on developing health services for his members prior to the NHS.
The role of civil society is very important in terms of the preparation for work, and also in that changing world we now live in where work is no longer a career and a job is no longer for life. It is that lifelong learning that I think this Government have failed to properly address. It was an absolute shame that the Government withdrew support for TUC unionlearn and the ability of unions to encourage people to retrain and work with employers. That is something that could be better addressed.
I also know, from having met the Minister in her previous incarnation, that she knows the benefit of unions working in partnership with employers. One of the best examples of a partnership agreement was of course at Tesco, where both sides, instead of negotiating over differences, were part of a partnership agreement that focused on the success of the enterprise for the benefit of employees and employers. One of the key elements of that partnership agreement was handling that position of massive turnover but also looking at how you can help people train within the company and also for careers outside the company. There are many other examples of where that has been really important. I hope the Minister can address those issues.
One of the things that struck me in the report highlighted the Prison and Probation Service. We are now facing a situation in which there is huge demand in the Prison Service but also a huge turnover. I declare an interest: my father was a prison officer for many years before he died. I remember very clearly the sense of vocation within that service. Most of the prison officers I met as a child were extremely concerned about the welfare of prisoners. They were involved in training prisoners and supporting them as they came out of prison. I do not see that any more. There is a lack of investment in training in prisons, which has affected the sense of vocation that many prison officers had.
I had a large number of questions about the implementation of some of these recommendations, but I think the thrust of contributions from across the Floor stressed the importance of a co-ordinated approach and planning. Let us see that strategy and have a debate about a clear strategy. I welcome the report of the committee.
My Lords, I begin by sharing the many thanks expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, for opening the debate with such verve, and indeed to her committee and its staff. I thank all noble Lords for their interesting contributions.
The Public Services Committee, of which the noble Baroness is clearly an excellent chair, has delivered an insightful and important report that has been welcomed by us all. It is a cornucopia of insights and examples. We have had more today—Camden and Wigan councils and secondments mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, the local IT training mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kamall, high employee participation in the Swedish model mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and so on. At a more strategic level, it has also rightly highlighted the growing demands on the public sector workforce and the need to find different ways of delivering effective public services and, of course, taking the public sector with us and serving the public well.
I agree with this challenge. I believe we can help to square the circle by making the public services more efficient. This is a mixture of big things—a past example might be making the Bank of England independent—and a plethora of small things. Some of these involve doing things better—for example, using new technology in the right way—and others involve reducing or ceasing inefficient activities and increasing flexibility, as the report highlights. Even more crucial is to attract and retain the right talent and train the workforce well. Examples of all these things can be found in the committee’s report.
Since I last served in government, we have improved the life cycle of government delivery—the way we procure, the way we manage and the way we evaluate. To pick up on the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I think this is a major strategic contribution. We are improving the way we procure, not only through the Procurement Bill and associated transformation but with high-quality recruitment and professional training to ensure that public services are well equipped with products and services. We will bring in SMEs, social enterprise and the voluntary sector, on which my noble friend Lord Kamall has spoken with passion.
We have improved the way that major projects and workstreams are managed through the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, run jointly by my department and the Treasury, to support successful delivery. We have also improved the way we evaluate government spending decisions with the Evaluation Task Force, which provides specialist support to ensure that evidence and evaluation are used to drive continuous improvement and inform Ministers on decisions.
Specifically on the report, much progress has been made in aligning with its recommendations. The People at the Heart of Care White Paper sets out our strategy for the social care workforce and system reform. We are taking forward ambitious reforms to the social care system and progressing the proposals in the White Paper, including on training and technology—a key focus of today’s report. This includes boosting workforce capacity, supporting sector digitalisation, developing our approach for improving oversight of the adult social care system, and enhancing the collection and use of data. Another example is the introduction of the public sector apprenticeship target to boost apprenticeship starts across the public sector, which I will come on to, and ongoing investment in preventive services, as several noble Lords have mentioned.
Picking up some of the key themes of discussion, as we recover from the pandemic and face a tight fiscal position, it is more important than ever that we focus on easing pressure on public services. One way we can do this is through investing in technology, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said; that is highlighted in recommendation 9 of the report. It is clear that having efficient and effective technology is an integral part of delivering high-quality public services and, as the noble Lord said, it can help with planning and co-ordination. That is why we have created the Central Digital and Data Office in the Cabinet Office to help build an effective digital Government, which includes a commitment to exploit emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing. By 2025, the Government are committed to having improved the skills of 90% of senior civil servants against the digital and data essentials core curriculum, which includes a specific focus on the needs of users and real-life experience—a key theme of the report.
Innovation is key in the design and delivery of public services, and it should perhaps have been mentioned a bit more. Access to data is often central to improving the lives of citizens and businesses. For example, it can be seen in the Geospatial Commission’s work on electric vehicle location data to support the rollout of electric vehicles, and in the national underground asset register, which is building a digital map of underground pipes and cables that will revolutionise the maintenance, repair, installation and operation of buried infrastructure, so district nurses will not be waiting in their cars while roads are being dug up.
We need to create leaders throughout the public sector who can navigate the challenges it faces. In recommendation 32, the committee rightly challenges the Government to promote best practice through the Leadership College for Government. The college works with a wide range of partners and leadership academies on common topics, sharing expertise, user focus and feedback. It will be a forum to encourage best practice, for which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, called. I was particularly glad to see that this will include front- line visits by the top of the office—the senior civil servants—right across the UK. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, spoke about knowledge and skills networks. I would like to talk to her further, but the college can become such a network to share knowledge and skills across the public sector.
As well as focusing on those at the top, the Government are focused on creating a pipeline of new talent into the public sector and a skilled and capable Civil Service. As part of this, we launched a revised apprenticeship strategy in April 2022, which sets out our commitment to apprentices making up 5% of the UK Home Civil Service workforce.
Recommendation 23 of the report calls for the successful public sector apprenticeship target to be reinstated. The target was introduced to boost apprenticeship starts across the public sector, and its introduction has had a positive impact—it has been a “successful action”, to pick up on the noble Baroness’s words—with over 220,000 apprenticeship starts in the public sector over the initial four-year target period. Apprenticeship starts by new and existing employees now represent around 1/10th of all starts in the public sector. Of course, apprenticeships can also be a vehicle for lifelong learning, and need to be encouraged right across the board.
We are also committed to creating a skilled and highly trained public sector workforce. Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, for example, the Department for Education has taken action to attract more people into teaching and enable them to succeed, with an entitlement to at least three years of structured training, support and professional development for all new teachers. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that we need to value teachers, which means building on local good practice. I was recently at Corpus Christi Catholic High School in Cardiff, and I saw the difference that a very good headmaster could make. It was clear that he was training the teachers and empowering them.
I acknowledge that STEM subjects are a challenge. I know from my noble friend Lord Younger that even the University Technical College in Portsmouth finds it very difficult to get girls to sign up to its STEM courses. We want to bring teaching into line with other prestigious professions such as law, accountancy and medicine by a better approach to training.
In addition, the Department of Health and Social Care continues to provide financial support to those wishing to qualify as social workers, through the £58.5 million social work bursary and £18.6 million education support grant. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, about the difficulties for those without formal qualifications in social care. I know from my own experience with my father’s carer, whom we helped to get qualifications while she was caring for him, that we need to be imaginative and do more in that area.
Training in cyber and computing skills si also a priority. We cannot deliver improved cyber-resilience or meet the integrated review ambitions on science and technology unless we grow and upskill our workforce.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, made some insightful and authoritative points about training and the police force—and, indeed, about police management more generally. I am afraid that I am unable to respond to his detailed points, but we are meeting next week, because he is kind enough to serve as a non-executive director on the Cabinet Office board, and perhaps we can talk further about the points that he has made. If need be, I can come back to him in writing as well.
My noble friend Lord Shinkwin made some very powerful comments about disability in the public service, and I look forward to seeing the IoD report that he mentioned. I recognise his unique contribution and perspective on how we best support disability in public service; he is right to pick up from the report the need to focus on users across the board and say how that can make a difference. I would add that our Access to Work programme has contributed to 1.3 million more disabled people being in work than in 2017, hitting a government commitment. We want to create more opportunities for disabled people to participate and thrive, and our important work on our health and disability White Paper goes on.
Many noble Lords have talked about preventive services. To respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, we need to prioritise investing in preventive services so that we can ease the burdens on public services by solving problems, as she said, before they become acute. For example, the likelihood of ex-offenders reoffending is significantly decreased if they have a home, a job and access to healthcare, including substance misuse treatment. That is why the Ministry of Justice is investing £200 million a year by 2024-25 to drive down reoffending and to offenders off drugs and into skills training, as well as into work and living in stable accommodation.
The 2021 Autumn Budget saw the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ supporting families programme, which now has planned funding of £695 million over three years. It is an important programme because it helps disadvantaged families with problems relating to unemployment, financial insecurity, the risk of homelessness and educational inequality.
My noble friend Lord Kamall brought fascinating insights into the link between government departments, civil society organisations and public sector partnerships. He will know that many government departments hold regular engagements at official and ministerial levels with civil society organisations to consult on the implementation of policies and to find innovative ways to improve public services from the point of view of citizens and users. The work we are doing on procurement represents something of a step-change in this area. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—we often disagree on these points—in that the amendment we made on Report regarding social enterprises and SMEs sends a message which is extremely important in the transformation programme that follows the Bill.
The Government have been very ready to use the private sector and civil society to deliver, as my noble friend Lord Kamall will know from DCMS, which very much leads the way. I believe in consultation with stakeholders and have been seeking help from stakeholders and users on the development of border import controls, which is one of my current challenges.
I am sorry so many committee members have been kept away by industrial action today. It is important that we view this report within the context of industrial action across the public sector, the huge economic challenge we face and the risk of inflation running out of control. This Government are committed to working constructively, but we need the unions to be fair and reasonable in return. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, the country simply cannot afford some of the demands being put forward, such as the 19% demand from the nurses, who of course we all support and value. The only way to truly mitigate the impact of these strikes on people is for the unions to go back to the negotiating table for a reasonable solution.
And employers too.
And employers. I know from my experience at Tesco, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was kind enough to reference, how important discussions with unions on ways of working and training can be. It is not only about pay; it is also about how you modernise, move forward together and use new technology, as he was saying. So I think even the old-fashioned Labour people opposite—
—old-fashioned new and old—might agree with that. However, for today, strikers need to ask themselves whether it is really fair to do what they are doing as the country is trying to have what is meant to be the first normal Christmas for some time.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, spoke at some length about pensions, which I know from previous exchanges he is very knowledgeable about. The Government implemented a number of pension scheme reforms in 2015. One area of reform was to make it easier to stay in work for longer and to return to work after taking pension payments by introducing late retirement factors and removing the abatement on re-employment. The Government already provide flexibility for those transferring into, out of and within the public sector—for example, through the ability of staff joining the public sector to transfer accrued pensions from private sector schemes into their public sector pension scheme, and the public sector transfer club for transfers within the public sector. On the transfer of smaller pension schemes, I will have to come back to him, but quite a lot is being done. As the noble Lord will know, I cannot bind ministerial colleagues, but he is right to say that the public service pensions are a crucial part of the total remuneration package for staff in the public services.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, asked about the Employment Bill. I believe that some of the measures on workers’ rights that she is probably concerned about, and that we pledged in the manifesto, are now being picked up in Private Members’ Bills starting in the other place, and they have passed their Second Reading. She smiles. So, some progress is being made. We agreed that flexibility can be powerful and important in public services. For example, I know that it is important in bringing older people into the workforce. I thank her for raising that point and for the opportunity to discuss progress on employment.
In closing, I again thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions throughout this debate. We share the sentiments of the committee’s report and agree that the Government and the country face enormous challenges: an ageing population, climate change, recovering from Covid and the war in Ukraine. We can meet those challenges only if we continue to innovate, harness new technology, build and value a more skilled workforce, and always look to do things more efficiently. If we do this, I believe that we can deliver the services our people deserve. I am here to do all I can to make that happen.
My Lords, I thank everyone for their contributions. Anyone listening to the debate today will know that, across the piece, this House understands that public services are central to the lives of people in this country. Whoever we are, whatever our age or culture, they are essential to our safety, our education, our opportunities for skill development. Public services are important across the piece and, therefore, how we view their main part—the workforce—is critical.
The report makes it clear that there has to be a step change in how the Government approach that overall. Members today have made some very telling points about individual aspects of public service, but they have also said that, overall, unless we value, give opportunity and are creative and flexible, we will not be able to offer the public service that the population of this country not only need but are saying they want.
I hope this report can be taken up by the Government. We were very disappointed that a Cabinet committee on public service reform, set up in the Cabinet Office at the beginning of the 2019 Government—that seems a long time ago now—met only once; it is certainly not there any more. Without that sort of attention, the Government will not be able to answer the questions that this committee has raised. I was not able to raise all of them, but thankfully, other people have helped me out today: on the importance of civil society, of lived experience and of using that in both the design and delivery of services. I was not able to answer a whole range of other things, but they are in the report.
I hope that Members who were not part of the debate today will none the less take the opportunity to look at the report and that all of us will make sure that we do our bit to produce a public service workforce that is fit for the future.