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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Public sector 'crisis' warning
Why did people leave public sector work
Urgent action must be taken by the government to tackle staff shortages in the public sector, a watchdog has warned.


We should all seek opportunities to value rather than devalue the contribution of public service workers so that truly committed people can continue to make a difference

Sir Andrew Foster, Audit Commission Controller

Former government workers, interviewed by the Audit Commission, said the government was relying too heavily on staff commitment to making a difference - and it must be more supportive to public servants.

It said many NHS, council and other workers were resigning because they were unable to cope with rising public expectations, felt weighed down by bureaucracy and paperwork and because of too many targets.

There was a crisis of confidence among some workers, and the commission urged the government to celebrate the importance of public sector work and make staff feel more valued.

It found some public servants were reluctant about saying what they did for a living, because of a perceived stigma attached to certain jobs, such as social work.

Why are people leaving?

Few public sector employers knew why their staff were leaving, according to the commission.

What is the Audit Commission?
It is an independent body, which monitors whether public money is being used economically, efficiently and effectively, and aims to improve public services

Only one in five of the former public sector workers had been formally interviewed about why they were leaving.

The Audit Commission found there were six key factors in people's decisions to leave - and pay was relatively minor compared to bureaucracy and paperwork, which topped the list of reasons:

  • Bureaucracy and paperwork: Half of our sample of former public sector workers identified this as the most important factor in their decision to leave

  • Insufficient resources, leading to unmanageable workloads.

  • Lack of autonomy.

  • Feeling undervalued by managers, government and the public (68% said the image of their former profession would discourage new recruits).


    We're cleaners - people don't realise what you do

    Domiciliary care workers

  • Pay that is not "felt fair" compared with that of people doing similar work;

  • A change agenda that can feel imposed and irrelevant.

The Audit Commission said the government was not being supportive enough to public servants.

Sir Andrew Foster, controller, said: "It's not just about pay...it is about valuing existing staff, about learning from their experiences in the workplace and using this information to improve the environment in which they work.

"There is also a role central government can play. We should all seek opportunities to value rather than devalue the contribution of public service workers so that truly committed people can continue to make a difference."

The reports findings reflects growing discontent in areas of the public sector over pay and conditions.


Nurses are not really thought of as a trained profession

Former NHS nurse

With threats of further strike action from some workers, the unions said the report was indicative of a crisis at the heart of the public sector.

Deputy General Secretary of Unison, the biggest public sector union, Keith Sonnet, said: "If the government needs any more evidence to support our argument that there is a crisis in public sector staffing, then this is it.

"It can no longer take for granted the goodwill and commitment of the public sector workforce. The national pay strike in local government showed that workers no longer feel valued or respected."


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See also:

25 Jan 02 | World at One
28 Jul 02 | Business
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