Think-tank warns of management crisis in public sector as older staff retire

An exodus of managers over the next 10 years could leave many councils struggling to fill vacancies and deliver services, a new report has warned.

A study by the New Local Government Network think-tank found that a combination of widespread retirements and fewer graduates wanting a career in the sector meant a recruitment crisis was on the horizon.

According to official statistics, local government employs about 2.2 million people, two-thirds of whom are over 40. Focus groups of graduates questioned as part of the research highlighted negative perceptions of the sector. Council managers were described as “middle-aged, slightly overweight, white, middle-class men”.

The report recommended the introduction of a ‘transfer-fee’ system, whereby councils that offered training received a fee if staff moved on to another authority. Councils should be more ‘outward looking’ with their recruitment and a fast-track national graduate scheme for public services should be set up to give individuals experience of working in both Whitehall and local government.

Alan Warner, talent management lead at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association and corporate director (people and property) at Hertfordshire County Council, said the report raised some important issues.

“The age profile is a serious concern for our sector and, of course, it hasn’t just happened overnight. Local authorities have been looking at ways of addressing the issue for some time now and many have strategies to reduce the impact – in some cases allowing staff to work longer,” he said.

“The transfer idea should be looked at, as should anything that tries to break the mould of traditional thinking in the sector.”

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