Six observations from my time as PPMA president

Against a challenging backdrop for public services, PPMA president Gordon McFarlane sets out six key reflections from his two years at the helm.

Next month, at the PPMA conference, my term as president ends and I will pass the baton to the new president.  Ahead of that, I'd like to share some reflections on what I have learned over the past two years, as encouragement to the PPMA community and to all colleagues working across our public services, to continue the great work you are doing.

Without doubt, my proudest achievement has been to champion the people that lead and support our workforce. Public services is nothing without its people and people managers.  Sometimes, the connection between good quality public services and the people that deliver them is not recognised or appreciated.  We are all human, and it can be tough hearing and reading about criticism from sources who don't necessarily understand the daily challenges our colleagues on the frontline face as they deliver services.   

Against this challenging backdrop my first reflection is about the power of the PPMA community.  It has been an honour to work with colleagues who are committed to sharing best practice, solutions, ideas, and support for one another.  PPMA membership has grown by more than 40%, enabling us to multiply the power and reach of this support, and to increase our visibility and influence. 

Second, it has been a joy to witness the impact that the PPMA's talent development programmes have on individuals, enabling them to flourish and grow. Whether participants are early career or aspiring to operate at Director level, all benefit as much from the peer support network they develop as they do from the formal learning content. Over the years, participants have gone on to achieve great things.  I always leave these events reassured that the future of HR is in good hands.

Third, there's no blueprint to respond to the ever-evolving challenges we face.  Our workforce must be creative and agile to respond to emerging technology, AI, and changes to the way we deliver services.  I believe a critical strength of the HR/OD community is its willingness to share, adapt and learn from best practice.  Whether that's through PPMA webinars, newsletter, roundtables or entering for the PPMA awards, I encourage all members to contribute to this continuous exchange of learning. 

Fourth, strengthening our relationships across other public sector membership bodies – West Midlands Employers, SOCITM, HPMA, UHR, CIPD - is enabling us to broaden our thinking, reach and collective power.  These connections will become even more important as we embrace AI, new technology and continue to transform the way we deliver public services.

Fifth, we are delivering services in the toughest financial environment I have seen.  With the current focus on cost control, we must not lose sight of the need to invest in the development of workforce.  From Covid and throughout the cost-of-living crisis, our attention has rightly been focused on responding to short term emergencies. If we are to overcome the current skills and workforce shortages, we must lift our heads, look further ahead, and stand firm in our commitment to retain, develop and support staff.

Sixth, together, we have a collective responsibility to counter unwarranted, negative narrative relating to the public sector in the media.  Taking time out from our busy days to promote and celebrate our successes might feel like a low priority but has such an important impact on public perception.

Finally, my sincere thanks to everyone that has supported me through my presidency, and that continues to make the PPMA community the tower of support that it is.  I look forward to passing the baton to Pam Parkes, who will bring her deep insight and experience as an Executive Director, People & Transformation at Essex County Council, and Commissioner at Birmingham City Council, to champion the workforce agenda.  The future of the PPMA is in safe hands.

Gordon McFarlane – Assistant Director, Leicestershire County Council and President, PPMA


Worry less about black swans, focus on grey rhinos

By Barry Quirk CBE | 19 July 2024

The studied critique of the Covid-19 Inquiry should encourage policymakers to pay more attention to other known but poorly managed risks, says Barry Quirk


Jackson to step down in the autumn

By Dan Peters | 19 July 2024

The chief executive officer of Wandsworth and Richmond LBCs, Mike Jackson, has decided to ‘step away from the role based entirely on personal family reasons’.


Wiltshire appoints chief executive

By Martin Ford | 19 July 2024

Wiltshire Council has announced the appointment of Lucy Townsend as its chief executive.


Squaring the circle

By Seb Lowe | 18 July 2024

Joe Montgomery and Seb Lowe review the King’s Speech, and they conclude the sector is well placed to help the Starmer government find solutions to several co...

Popular articles by Gordon McFarlane