The capacity of councils to meet the demands of the 21st century have been called into question by a report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Significant gaps were found in e-government and managing the new political processes following the ending of the committee system.The main gaps for council officers were found to be in e-government, including lack of knowledge about how ICT can be applied, lack of people who understand how to respond strategically and corporately to the e-government agenda and lack of skill in procuring ICT. Partnership working skills are also lacking and this includes consensus building, negotiating and influencing, and knowledge of issues such as policy and funding developments, forms of partnerships that add most value and ways of overcoming barriers to partner engagement. Risk taking is another gap area and this includes failure to challenge existing ways of delivering services and willingness to implement radical changes. The other major gap is in community engagement, particularly a lack of knowledge about how to empower local communities, carry out local needs analysis and manage conflict.
The main gaps in capacity among members are a shortage of strategic management skills and ineffective overview and scrutiny. Many councils found the capacity of the backbench suffered from the practice of extracting the most talented members for the cabinet. Many also questioned the need for the current large number of backbench members, and identified a lack of diversity amongst councillors as a major issue. There is also uncertainty about whether councillors should be community facilitators or community leaders.
Among top teams, the most pronounced skills gaps related to strategic thinking and the ability to act corporately rather than as managers of individual departments. The importance of strong, consistent leadership at both the management and the political level was also highlighted, along with a lack of focus and ability to prioritise.
Looking ahead to the next five years, e-government skills will be in greater demand and the increasing focus on the role of the local authority as a community leader might lead to greater capacity gaps in the future.
The report also highlights what support is available now to narrow the capacity gaps and suggests how capacity might be built in the future.