The Leaders Debate last night was an amazing spectacle to witness. Televised debates have been huge in America for some time now but over here in the UK we’ve been slow to adopt lots of these methods, for many reasons, including the fact that we are a small nation – it’s relatively easy to traverse the country over four weeks, campaigning and kissing babies. Another thing keeping us back is that no leader has ever agreed to do a debate – and without the agreement of the current leader there’s no point.

Someone said (the BBC’s Nick Robinson, perhaps?) last year when Brown agreed to the debate that only a leader with nothing to lose would agree to a television debate. They are difficult, stressful, may make leaders vulnerable to criticism and can be vote-changing.

The debate was enjoyable to watch even though I felt there wasn’t much actual debate. I don’t want to take sides, well, not too much anyway, but I have to mention David Cameron’s Metropolitan Police comment.

Essentially, Cameron didn’t make many HR friends last night. When asked if there would there be cuts to the police budget, Cameron came out with this little gem: “The Metropolitan Police has 400 uniformed officers in its human resources department,” he said. “Our police officers should be crime fighters, not form fillers.”

I don’t think he means it. I think Cameron is well aware of the important role HR is in modern business: what he’s doing is playing on a stereotype of HR as pencil-pushing administrators which sadly, many of the public believes. And clearly he’s playing for votes.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t push the public sector to slim down, share HR services, make cuts, employ part time practitioners: jobs could go in any department, but HR has been cast as chief source of wastage in the public’s eyes with this comment.

Jackie Orme, CEO of the CIPD, has written to Cameron to explain her point of view. She tweeted earlier today: “Dismissing HR as formfillers not helpful. HR crucial to govt efforts to deliver pub sec reform as staff budgets are cut back.” (Follow Jackie on Twitter at Jackie_Orme)

You have to wonder what toll a massive cut in HR will take on performance – it’s all well and good to be making savings, but will they be false economies when tribunal claims are up and engagement is low?

I’m not going to get too hot and heavy on this – it is Friday afternoon, after all, so here’s a fanciful list of ways uniformed HR officers in the Met do fight crimes by doing their HR work:

  1. Fighting against the crime of not having enough rest – ensuring sufficient leave is taken and employees are fit and well for policing duty
  2. Fighting against the crime of recruiting the wrong people – a bad hire can cost 4x annual salary, which is  a lot of tax payer’s money to waste
  3. Fighting against the crime of not engaging your employees – the police are public facing and need to be engaged to provide great service
  4. Fighting against the crime of breaching employment law (an actual crime) – remove the HR and see what happens to tribunal levels
  5. Fighting against the crime of neglecting diversity – the police have been criticised for this in the past, HR works to help create diverse organisations
  6. And the real one: Fighting against the crime of bad training – almost all the Met HR department train front-line officers. Let’s not bother training the police in future, see how that goes.

I think we can all agree training our police is essential. The Metropolitan Police service has confirmed today that 398 of their HR department are involved in training. today gave these figures


“In 2009/10, there were 398 officers classified as being based in Human Resources based in the following roles:

208 police officers teaching new police officer recruits, specials and probationers  
26 police officers training new PCSO’s       
63 police officers in the Driver Training School teaching and assessing advanced and response driver training        
55 police officers in various other training roles   
30 police officers undertaking Sergeant and Inspector assessments and other work in the Career Management Unit       
8 police officers in the Police Federation, Superintendents’ Association and Staff Support Associations      
8 police officers in Positive Action, recruitment, Community Engagement, Duties and other areas of HR work.

An MPS spokesperson said in 2010/11 the number has reduced to 370.

A Conservative spokesperson said Mr Cameron was simply pointing out the scale of the MPS HR department and questioned whether this was the best use of uniformed officers’ time.”

If I was working for the HR department of the Met I’d be feeling pretty let down by Cameron’s unenlightened comments – would you vote for someone who’s specifically declared your job as ‘waste’ in order to win votes?

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