Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 13

It is quiet - too quiet. That seems to be the belief of senior human resources managers. Not that with the deadline for Agenda for Change implementation upon them, there is too little to do. But while last financial year it was about crafting strategy, now it is about grafting.

The single biggest concern, beginning with the early implementers but now fanning out to all trusts, is the tension at the heart of Agenda for Change. In the words of one manager, 'is this a process about adding up costs or is it about modernisation?'.

There is a fear that changes in working practices will be swallowed up by an emphasis on cost. There is also concern among senior HR directors that if the benefits are not obvious enough, foundation trusts will begin to try to pull away from it.

The area in which there is still widespread concern is unsocial hours, where a number of early implementers warn that costs are likely to be higher than originally planned for.

One director warns: 'With Agenda for Change, it is about what is in that individual staff member's letter. You have to get that right.' Meanwhile the publication of the public health white paper has pricked up some ears. It talks about a new type of frontline staff, the health trainer. HR managers sound perplexed: 'This is a very high-profile, political kind of job, but it seems pretty vague at the same time - that sounds like a dangerous mix, ' said one manager.

Department of Health director of workforce Andrew Foster has been talking about the 'balanced scorecard', a consistent measure of how HR contributes to corporate success, for more than a year. Some initial scepticism has now been replaced by impatience that it is not being rolled out faster. Many HR managers realise that a credible scheme that shows results could be career-enhancing. Generally I am positive. I am eager to see what the pilots achieve.'