Headlines: April 23rd, 2008

Local councils may struggle to employ enough staff to run services over the next ten years because a third is due to retire. This warning comes from the New Local Government Network in a report that reveals that 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 per cent of the country’s work force and nearly half of the public sector work force. Local Government is the largest employment sector in England, employing 2,204,000 members of staff. The problem is particularly acute in local government because two thirds of employees are over 40, whilst the proportion of those under 25 is half that of the wider economy.

The report is critical of recruitment processes. 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.

The report found that a combination of the “baby-boom” generation retiring and few graduates wanting a career in local government has led to the crisis. Whilst many graduates want to work in the public sector, very few are excited by the prospect of working in local government. 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 think tank argues that the Government should setup 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.