Before I say anything else, I want to start with a thank you. The work you and other public sector workers do is hard. You don’t do it because you want an easy life. You don’t do it because it’s a cushy job. You do it because, when you get home at the end of the day, you want to know you’ve made a difference. And you have.
You can’t get more at the sharp end than being the social worker trying to protect a child at risk of violence or abuse; the fire fighter running into a burning building when everyone else is running out; the nurse, doctor or paramedic battling to save the life of someone who’s barely holding on; the teacher seizing on a spark of interest in a class of boisterous teenagers; the policy expert figuring out how we keep the lights on for the next hundred years; the council worker dedicated to saving their local high street or securing essential local services; the probation and prison officers patiently working to turn the life around of someone who has only ever known a life of crime or drug addiction.
This is just a snapshot of the incredible things that you and the rest of Britain’s 5 million public sector workers do every day. For that, you deserve our enduring respect and gratitude. Whatever the pressures, no matter how hard the challenges, you keep our country going and I want to thank you on behalf of myself, my party and the government.
Your contribution is even more remarkable given that – over the last 4 years, in the wake of the biggest financial crisis in living memory, with our public services having to absorb significant spending cuts – every public service has had to do more with less.
In coalition, we’ve had to take difficult decisions on pay and pensions as we deal with the deficit – because there is nothing remotely fair or public spirited about saddling our children and grandchildren with those debts.
You’ve had to make personal sacrifices – to keep more of your colleagues in work and protect essential services for those who need them most.
As a result of those decisions, those sacrifices, our country is back on track. Our country is growing again. More people are in work than ever before.
And while a lot of families are still feeling the squeeze, we are finally through the fire. Up and down the country, people can once again look to their future with hope.
Securing the future of Britain’s public services
The question is: what next? The job’s not done. We’ve still got a way to go to pay down the deficit and, if the last 5 years were about securing Britain’s recovery, the next 5 years must be about moving from a period of rescue to a period of renewal. How do we learn to live within our means while providing people with the innovative and world class public services they deserve?
That is one of the central questions all political parties must answer at the next general election, and each one of the UK’s main political parties has a different response.
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I believe in sound public finances supporting strong public services. I recognise that to build a stable, more balanced economy and a fairer society in Britain, we need both our public sector and private sector to thrive together, and we see you – Britain’s public servants – as our partners in this.
Without growing businesses and the taxes we pay, we don’t have the money to invest in good hospitals and schools. Without educated children and healthy adults, there wouldn’t be growing businesses.
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And while I would love to come here today to tell you this means immediate relief from the pressure you’ve been under on pay, you know as well as I do, it simply isn’t possible yet.
That is why I think IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) should not grant a pay rise to MPs while everyone else in the public sector has their pay rises restricted and I have told them so.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel: once the deficit is gone and public spending is growing, my party will be able to deliver a better financial deal for all those who work in our public services.
In the meantime, I believe there are concrete steps we can take now as we finish that journey and build some of the best, most resilient and innovative public services in the world. I’m talking about, first, cutting unnecessary red tape to help reduce your workloads; second, giving you more support to deal with the particular stresses and strains that your roles bring; and, finally, ensuring the public sector offers you modern, progressive workplaces.
Workload Challenge for teachers
Firstly, every time I speak to a teacher, nurse, social worker, Jobcentre Plus manager, police officer or council worker one issue comes up again and again: their battle with bureaucracy.
Take teaching. Some people are still under the misguided impression that it’s a profession built around short days and long holidays. But talk to a teacher and they’ll tell you about their working week of 50 hours or more. They’ll also tell you how much of this time they feel is wasted on unnecessary processes, box ticking and form filling.
We’re talking about hours spent struggling to stay on top of piles of incident reports, over-detailed lesson plan templates, health and safety forms, departmental updates, training requests and so on that threaten to engulf them every week. Not to mention the reams of additional evidence which teachers pull together because of a long-held belief that Ofsted inspectors want to see everything written down.
Some of this work is unavoidable. Every school needs to ensure the safety of its pupils and staff and maintain the highest standards possible. But should you really have to fill in multiple risk assessment forms for every school trip when just one form would be better?
Ask any teacher and they’ll give you at least 2 more examples like that: whether it’s having to highlight their lesson plans in five different colours or inputting every pupil’s marks into countless different spreadsheets in countless different ways at regular points in the year.
I believe it’s time for us to stop that runaway train of bureaucracy in its tracks, giving our teachers more time to do what they do best: creating and planning the best possible lessons and experiences for our children. In government, we’ve already done this for businesses: freeing up money and resources for millions of companies.
We want to do the same for the public sector – starting with teachers. This is part of the wider work being done by Nicky Morgan and David Laws to tackle the issue of workload across the teaching profession, following talks with trade unions.
It has already produced a new myth busting document from Ofsted, which clarifies what’s expected of teachers for school inspections.
And, today, I’m pleased to announce with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, the launch of our new Workload Challenge for teachers.
We’re asking teachers across the country to take a long hard look at how they spend their working day and what pointless processes and paperwork they think should be cut or scrapped altogether.
We want you to then send us your ideas via the Workload Challenge page available on the TES website.
In the New Year, a panel led by teachers and educators will scrutinise the best ideas, then work with Ofsted, the teaching unions and other leading education stakeholders to put them into action starting early next year.
If we can show this pilot working in education, I want to get it rolled out as soon as possible to all our other services too.
At the same time as our challenge is running, we’ve also got teams going into 30 schools to look in more detail at what’s happening on the ground.
Based on the teams’ findings, we’ll continue to work with a cross-section of schools and the teaching unions to highlight best practice and develop tips and tools every school can use to tackle unnecessary workload, whilst also maintaining the highest standards of teaching and management.
Frontline mental health support
Secondly, as well as easing your workloads where we can, I want to do more to help you deal with the specific pressures and demands that come with your different roles.
Many of you choose to work in the public sector because, when you see someone in trouble or in need of support, you want to step in and help. Yet being that person day in and day out – dealing with people who are often disengaged, frustrated, angry or at risk of hurting themselves or other people – can take its toll.
These kinds of pressures are especially acute for Britain’s emergency service workers. Our ambulance workers, paramedics, firemen, police, the Coastguard all get thrown in to incredibly stressful and harrowing situations such as road accidents, suicides, the loss of a young child, and a terrorist attack.
When calls like these come, they need to be ready and, when the shift ends, they go home to their families and try to be a good partner, friend, mum or dad. But if there’s no way of dealing with the day’s challenges, the pressure can become too much – leading to mental health issues.
In the most extreme circumstances, this causes burn out and people leaving the job altogether. In discussions with the government, workers from across our blue-light services have told us that they want more support to prevent and deal with these mental and emotional demands.
Throughout this coalition, I’ve fought for the resources to secure equal treatment for mental health with physical health. In the emergency services, you’re given protective gloves, masks, stab vests, fire fighting kit etc, as well procedures to follow to keep you physically safe. I want to give you that same high standard of protection for your mental health.
That is why I’ve asked the mental health organisation Mind to work with our emergency services personnel to develop and trial a new package of Frontline Mental Health support.
This will include practical tools emergency service workers can use to cope with the strain of working relentlessly busy shifts, answering traumatic call outs, helping grieving relatives and keeping the public safe, healthy and well.
We know this kind of support has already had a huge impact in other countries and services, for example the US Army – where, since 2008, resilience training has helped to reduce rates of anxiety and depression amongst over 1 million soldiers. But it’s not been tried and tested in the UK on this scale before.
We aim to start this pilot in the spring and roll it out across our emergency services more widely as soon as we can.
Mind are already working with employers to raise awareness of mental health problems and reduce stigma, through their Time to Change programme, and I would urge those public sector bodies still to sign up to Time to Change to do so now.
Modern, engaging workplaces
Finally, I recognise that you can’t get the best public services without the best people, and every day we’re competing with the private sector for your talent and skills.
To ensure you stick with us, we need our public services to be offering some of the best places to work in the UK. This means modern, engaging workplaces which look beyond just qualifications to see your potential; give you the chance to progress as far as your talents and ambition can take you; and help you strike that balance between managing the demands of your job and home – whether that’s caring for a sick relative, bringing up children or just leading a more balanced life.
When this government started, for too many young people, it was still a case of who you know not what you know that secured your access to valuable work experience or internship opportunities in the civil service.
Since 2010, we’ve focused hard on levelling that playing field for all young people. This includes establishing 2 new work experience programmes, which give school and college students a chance to see for themselves what working in government is like and gain vital professional experience and skills.
We’ve stopped the informal internships arrangements in government which only gave a leg up to those with insider contacts: ensuring that all of our civil service internship places are advertised widely and openly.
In addition, we’ve expanded the number of places available on our Summer Diversity Internship scheme – which targets young people from ethnic minorities or poorer backgrounds – from 175 to 300.
We’ve also created our new fast-track apprenticeship scheme. As you know, for years, the civil service has recruited its future leaders through the tried and tested route of the Graduate Fast-Stream Scheme. But university isn’t for everyone. Many talented young people want to earn while they learn and, if we’re serious about recruiting the brightest and best out there, we need to ensure they get a shot at the top jobs too.
Based on this scheme’s early success, we’ve already doubled the number of fast-track apprenticeship places available in the civil service from 100 to 200 – with plans to double them again to 400 by 2016.
In the coming months, I want to see the scale and reach of these schemes – along with those you’re part of – grow right across our public services. They’ve got to, if we want to secure a diverse public sector built on merit, equipped to challenge outdated thinking, drive innovation and deliver better public services.
Shared Parental Leave
For me, it’s critical that people who choose to work in the public sector know that they’re working in modern, progressive workplaces. That is why I think it’s also important we do more to support public sector workers balancing the demands of modern life.
As you know, from April next year, under our new shared parental leave arrangements, if you’re a new mum who wants to return to work before your 12 months of maternity leave is up, or go back to work for a particular project, you can without losing out.
Your partner will be entitled to use your remaining parental leave and pay, if that’s what you both want. You can even – as parents – take chunks of time off together.
It’s up to individual employers to decide the extra pay and support they can give to their employees during this shared parental leave period. Ideally, I want to see every public sector organisation doing what they can to help their employees take full advantage of these new rules.
I pushed for the introduction of shared parental leave in the first place, because we fundamentally believe it’s time for us to sweep away the outdated regulations and prejudices which still limit the choices of too many people in this country. Evidence shows promoting flexible working patterns like this can help boost employee productivity, loyalty and retention.
To help get that revolution started in the public sector, working with Francis Maude and the Cabinet Office, I’ve been pushing hard for radical reforms to the way in which the civil service pays and supports its staff after their children are born.
So, I’m pleased to confirm that, from April 2015, the civil service will be offering equal parental pay and support to all its employees – male and female. As result, it will no longer just be new mums working in the civil service who can take maternity leave at full pay. Dads will also be able to benefit from enhanced pay for shared parental leave, if both parents choose to carve up their time between them.
This means more fathers will be able to afford to take time off to spend caring for their new born children. More widely, I want to see this change blaze a trail for other public and private sector organisations to follow – making this option the norm for more working families and increasing the opportunities available to both sexes to earn and care across our society.
And this shouldn’t just be about parents. With an ageing population, there are increasing numbers of people living with long-term medical conditions and receiving care from their family members.
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This builds on our successful work in government to extend the right to flexible working to everyone, and again I’d like to see more organisations across the public sector and private sector offering more flexible working arrangements to their employees to help family carers juggle their commitments at work and home and stay healthy themselves.
In conclusion, the jobs you do aren’t easy. They’re not for the faint hearted, but you do them because you want to make a difference. I hear that in every job centre, hospital, school, police station, prison and public sector office I visit.
Britain just wouldn’t work without you. That’s why I believe it’s so critical to give you the professional opportunities and support you need to keep doing your jobs well.
This is my commitment and that of my party to you: we’ll keep doing what we can to ensure our government empowers, values and listens to you more.
Only, together, working as partners, can we finish the job we’ve started and finish it fairly: building the stronger economy and fairer society Britain needs to succeed.