The delivery of public service is labour intensive. Any productivity enhancement will therefore touch upon the "people" element; the EPP target inevitably requires some savings in staff costs. How to win the support of staff and address their concern is one of the major challenges of the implementation of EPP.
An important step to win staff support is through effective communication between staff and management. To ensure that the staff fully understand the EPP spirit, in particular the EPP plans in their own departments, we have urged Controlling Officers to consult and brief their staff of the departmental EPP plans through established channels like the Departmental Consultative Committees. Some Controlling Officers have written personal letters to their staff explaining the cardinal principles in drawing up the plans. We have published an EPP Newsletter at regular intervals to report progress on implementation on EPP. We use this Newsletter to share experience amongst all in the public sector in our drive for higher productivity.
To ensure that the human resources aspects are taken care of, we have devised a strategy to provide Controlling Officers with guidelines and advice in dealing with staff issues arising from the implementation of their EPP initiatives. The strategy also provides practical assistance in redeploying staff released from one office to another.
The above strategy is drawn up based on the following principles:
- facilitate bureaux's and departments' efforts in enhanced efficiency and productivity whilst minimising staff redundancy;
- meet the pledged EPP targets whilst making full use of the human resources available; and
- manage all grades and ranks of staff in the best interest of staff and management when formulating the EPP plans.
Under the strategy, Controlling Officers are required to strictly control the recruitment of staff. They have to plan their EPP initiatives on the basis of vacancies / natural wastage and planned growth for all grades of staff in the department as a whole.
While Controlling Officers plan reductions in posts arising from EPP in line with natural wastage or internal redeployment, there are cases where Controlling Officers have genuine difficulties in re-absorbing staff within their department. To facilitate bureaux and departments to handle the surplus staff problem, the Finance Bureau and the Civil Service Bureau have jointly administered a clearing house mechanism to match surplus staff with justified time-limited projects.
Through this mechanism, we have cleared most of the surplus staff likely to arise in 2000-01 from the implementation of EPP and the reorganisation of municipal services. In total, we have successfully matched 358 staff to over 80 time-limited projects. Examples of time-limited projects include clearing backlog of data input, computerisation of records, translations of manuals and guidelines and organising short-term events, etc.
There is, however, a limit to the effectiveness of the clearing house mechanism in addressing staffing problems likely to arise in future years. The public sector has to devise a longer-term human resources plan in light of the changes in work practices, the availability of more cost-effective services in the private sector and the increasing use of IT.
We will need to explore other measures to reduce staff costs and control the size of the civil service. We will endeavour to ensure that these measures are acceptable to both the staff and the community at large.