Research Project

Leading Lights: Recruiting the next generation in local government
21 April, 2008

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Leading Lights: Recruiting the next generation in local governmentA new report warns that local councils may struggle to employ enough staff to run services over the next ten years as a third of its staff are due to retire. The New Local Government Network (NLGN) report finds that many councils could be left understaffed as “authorities are set to lose significantly higher proportions of senior managers over the next decade” compared to other areas of the public sector.

Local government employees make up 12.6% of the country’s workforce and nearly half (47%) of the public sector workforce. Local Government is the largest employment sector in England, employing 2,204,000 members of staff, equating to 1,563,000 full time equivalents.

The report, supported by the Leadership Centre for Local Government, the Learning and Skills Council and Veredus, found that a combination of the “baby-boom” generation retiring and few graduates wanting a career in local government has led to the crisis. The focus groups of graduates questioned as part of this research highlighted the stark prejudices held by many against careers in local government, for instance, describing average council staff as “definitely middle-aged, probably wearing glasses, slightly overweight … white, middle-class man” and “spending their whole lives carrying out the kind of minutiae focusing on these things like parking fines and what type of seat is going to be at the bus stop”.

The problem is particularly acute in local government as two thirds of employees are over 40, whilst the proportion of those under 25 is half that of the wider economy. Furthermore, figures in the research identify 100% of county councils, 94.7% of London Boroughs, 87.5% of English unitary authorities, 87.5% of metropolitan districts as having had difficulties recruiting at the managerial and professional level.

Leading Lights: Recruiting the next generation in local government criticises many council management structures as “not currently fit-for-purpose” and calls on councils to be more outward looking when recruiting for posts. It also recommends the introduction of a “transfer-fee” style system where councils are rewarded if they offer staff training by receiving a fee if they move on to another authority. It also calls for greater support for middle managers as well as fixed term contracts for management staff.

NLGN also found that whilst many graduates want to work in the public sector, very few are excited by the prospect of working in local government. The think tank argues that the Government should set up a “National Governing Britain Fast Track” graduate recruitment scheme for the entire public service and scrap the current system of having separate schemes for local and central Government. This would allow graduates to gain experience of working in both Whitehall and local government.

Author of the report, Nigel Keohane argues:

“Our focus group research reveals a depressingly negative impression of working in local government. However, analysis shows that approaches to attracting talent too often reinforce negative perceptions. Jobs in local government are not marketed to an audience of the most talented but to a pre-defined catchment; mechanisms for recruitment exacerbate this trend. Jobs are not ‘sold’ for what they actually do, for their contribution to society or for the career development opportunities they offer. Yet, these are the incentives most attractive to potential recruits. A wide range of excellent benefits and an enviable pension are hardly ever marketed, even for senior posts”.

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Publication Date: 21 April 2008
ISBN: 1 903 447 67 3
Authored by: Nigel Keohane