Retention in public services

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Matthew Fright; Nick Davies; Gil Richards

October 9, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at how the government can keep workers in the NHS, schools and police.

Public services are responsible for keeping the public safe, healthy and well educated. This relies on the work of millions of people across the country. But that workforce is not a happy or stable one. Workforce problems persist across public services, from loss of experienced staff to high turnover and vacancies. Taken together, these act as a drag on performance – which in most cases is still worse than before the pandemic, and substantially worse than in 2010.

The government’s focus has been on recruiting more staff: 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more GPs and 20,000 more police officers were all key pledges in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto. However, new recruits will only ever make up a minority of total workforces, and take time to acquire the knowledge, experience and organisational memory that makes public services tick.

Public service effectiveness depends on keeping existing workforces skilled, motivated – and, crucially, in post. Yet relatively little attention has been paid to retention. This report addresses that gap by assessing the scale, impact, causes and solutions to retention problems in three key public services: the NHS, schools and the police.