Skills needs in local government - feature

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This feature was provided by Joan Munro, assistant director (People, Skills and Development) of the Employers' Organisation for Local Government, and head of the LGNTO, the Local Government National Training Organisation, a UK-wide body tackling skills issues.

The Government recently set out its plans for achieving "a strong, vibrant, innovative and responsive local government" in a White Paper entitled ‘Strong Local Leadership - Quality Public Services’. Chapter Five 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 introduced, then 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 Civil Service. Furthermore, the average employee attends a paltry 1.7 training days a year, with many front line staff being offered little or no development opportunities.

A few authorities offer excellent support for their staff to learn and develop, but many feel restricted by lack of budgets for training, lack of time for staff to attend courses or by fear that trained staff will be 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 to complete an NVQ, and all professional staff are required to spend time updating their skills every year. A similar, well-resourced and coordinated 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 there are looming shortages.

Local government needs more funds to expand the new graduate development programme the Employers’ Organisation is setting up. 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?

LGNTO developed and is implementing the Local Government Workforce Development Plan 2001-4, which is explained on their website. To read the Government's proposals on skills development in local government in its white paper go to the Department of Transport, Local Governement and the Regions site. The Employers' Organisation for Local Government is urging practitioners to write to the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions expressing their opinions and experiences by 28 February: [email protected]

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