Is a job in the health service or university sector a ‘job for life’?

Never apologise, never explain, never resign.

This used to be the fairly exclusive mantra of rogue politicians and shonky businesses. Now it seems to be almost an operational philosophy in the Public Service. Sharon Shoesmith, former head of Haringey Children’s Services has won her appeal against ‘unfair dismissal’ following the death of ‘Baby P’ and what was a particularly venomous and hateful media and public campaign against her at that time.

Neither she, nor any of her staff “killed baby P'” as some of the more ludicrous commentators on this story have claimed. Baby P’s wretched excuse for a ‘family’ did that themselves.

However, following the success of her appeal, Ms Shoesmith has lost no time in deflecting questions about what her professional and executive responsibility might actually have been in the situation by telling us that she ‘doesn’t do blame’.

Following the death of ‘Baby P’ the subsequent investigation by OFSTED was so damning that in an other age, the responsible Head would have felt honour-bound to resign. But that was then and this is now. Now, a public service job is often seen to be an entitlement for life and should anyone threaten that guarantee of income regardless of capability or performance, then an army of employment lawyers will surely find that procedural mis-step or suggestion of ‘unfairness’ and convert that into a sizeable compensation payment. (See Helen Giles’ HR Blog for just how this Theatre of the Absurd works!)

Ask anyone in healthcare how easy or difficult it to remove someone from a job that they are clearly unwilling or unable to do well (as I’ve been doing in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Italy) and listen to their incredulous responses and ‘HR Horror Stories’. One message that the Sharon Shoesmith case sends (at least thus far in the legal saga) is that if even the Government Minister responsible cannot dismiss an employee in the face of serious service and organisational failings, what chance does an average health service manager have?

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