Government must invest in council staff development

Extra funds needed if local government is to defuse the ‘age
time bomb’ as it fails to attract younger employees

The Government recently set out its plans for achieving "a strong,
vibrant, innovative and responsive local government" in a White Paper.

Chapter five of Strong Local Leadership – Quality Public Services considers
how local government might attract and develop the skills needed to improve
performance and invites comments on the approaches suggested.

The view of the Employers’ Organisation for Local Government is that a major
initiative is needed to tackle the current and future skills deficiencies in local
government. If current performance is to improve, and innovative practices be
introduced, skills development is vital. This is all the more important if new
challenges, such as embracing the community leadership role and fully implementing
e-government, are to be successfully met.

New recruits, with ability and commitment, are needed to replace the 30 per
cent of staff over 50 years of age who will retire in the next 15 years. The
solution lies in a major campaign to sell local government employment
opportunities along with the creation of new trainee schemes.

In local government, only 1.1 per cent of payroll is spent on trainees and
workforce development. This compares to 2.95 per cent of payroll in the
CivilService. Furthermore, the average employee attends a paltry 1.7 training
days a year, with many frontline staff being offered little or no development
opportunities.

A few authorities offer excellent support for their staff to learn and
develop, but many are restricted by lack of budgeting for training or by fear
of trained staff being poached by neighbouring authorities. Local government
had a reputation for investing heavily in workforce development but training
and trainee posts were seen as painless ways to make cuts when budgets got
successively reduced.

There are lessons to be learned from the NHS, which is changing its approach
to recruitment, development and motivation of staff considerably. Many millions
are being spent on promoting careers in the NHS and workforce development. All
non-professional staff in the NHS are entitled to funds to undertake training
or complete an NVQ, and all professional staff are required to spend time
updating their skills every year. A similar, well-resourced and co-ordinated
skills development initiative is needed for local government.

If local government is going to achieve the Government’s vision, new and
better skills are essential. In addition to a national skills development
initiative, there has to be significant government investment to help councils
attract and develop both new and current staff. Local government job
opportunities need promotion, particularly where looming shortages exist.

Local government needs to expand its new graduate development programme. It
needs a critical mass of bright new graduates who can really make a difference.

All councils need extra funds to develop the next generation of skilled
staff, such as social workers, environmental health officers and accountants.

Is it unreasonable to ask the Government to provide enough funding so that
councils can promote learning and development for all their staff?

Joan Munro is assistant director (People, Skills and Development) of the
Employers’ Organisation for Local Government and head of the Local Government
NTO

– To read the Government’s proposals on skills development in local
government in its White Paper visit www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk/sll/pdf/wp_chap5.pdf

The Employers’ Organisation for Local Government wants practitioners to give
their views to the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions by
28 February.

Forward any comments on the subject via e-mail to Ben.Turner@dtlr.gsi.gov.uk

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