3rd October 2022
LGC Article: Cost-of-living crisis will accentuate council workforce crisis, Joanne Roney
Major question marks over the economic direction of the country, rapidly rising inflation, soaring energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis – and we haven’t even got to the usual winter pressures yet combined with the ongoing covid pandemic response.
Dealing with the fallout of just one of those major events would be challenging enough but having to contend with such a catalogue of chaos means we’re all having to navigate the trickiest of terrains in what feels like some of the most extreme weather conditions the local government sector, let alone the country, has ever had to face. And I’m afraid to report that the forecast for the future doesn’t look much sunnier either.
But one glimmer on the horizon is the Solace Summit in Birmingham on 11-13 October where we will discuss all of these issues, and more.
Local government finances – already under severe strain before any of the events mentioned above had begun – are now in dire straits, meaning councils across the country are having to plan even more unpalatable service reductions in a bid to balance the books.
More pressure on ailing finances
The Institute for Government has estimated councils will be up to £2bn out of pocket as a result of inflation that wasn’t forecast in last year’s spending review. Getting through the next year without further financial help from the government will be hard enough but with public sector borrowing ballooning, local authorities will be bracing themselves for the possible return of austerity measures in the not-too-distant future.
Even if that were to be avoided, the inequalities within, and between, different groups of people and places is growing. Food bank usage, debt cases and the number of council tax arrears are all rising. The day-to-day financial pressures all households are facing are undoubtedly having a disproportionate impact on the most deprived and vulnerable as they have fewer places to cut back without hitting living standards compared with better off families.
We all know that it’s at times like this demand for council services shoots up, heaping even more pressure on our ailing finances and challenged workforces.
Worsening recruitment and retention struggles
I’d like to be upbeat and echo Billy Ocean to say that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. And while that still rings true for many, we must also recognise the going has been tough for quite some time now and that, completely understandably, some in the sector have simply had enough. And that in turn only goes to accentuate the workforce capacity and capability crisis which Solace has been highlighting.
I fear that without intervention to address these long-standing problems, the struggles councils have in recruiting and retaining the brilliant staff we need are only going to get worse, to the detriment of the areas we serve as well as the country as a whole.
It’s at times like this you can either shrivel up and retreat to a quiet corner in the hope of simply surviving, or you can come out swinging. While it understandably feels difficult to briefly step away, physically and mentally, from our organisations when there’s so much going on, not doing so can also present its own problems. Because it’s meeting with, talking and listening to others in similar situations and learning about what they are doing in response to common issues we’re all grappling with back ‘home’ that helps us to develop innovative solutions to problems.
Just as importantly, it provides an opportunity to refresh and re-energise ourselves so that we can better lead our organisations to deal with the challenges ahead.
Plotting a path forward
So if you have not already booked your ticket to Solace Summit I urge you to do so now. Bringing together local government leaders from across the UK to learn and network, this year’s event is focused on leadership, levelling up/growth, and exploring how the sector can respond to the plentiful problems we’re now all too familiar with.
From West Midlands CA mayor Andy Street (Con) to swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington; NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor to historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, the programme promises to be both insightful and inspiring. To find out more information and to book your tickets visit: www.solace-summit.com.
While the challenges facing our communities are far from trivial, I feel much happier knowing so many brilliant colleagues across the country are doing, and will continue to do, all we can to help our people and places through these incredibly tough times. I look forward to seeing many of you in Birmingham so that together we can help plot a path through these dark days and ensure councils remain beacons of hope in times of crisis.
LGC is the media partner for the Solace Summit, taking place in Birmingham on 12-13 October. See www.solace-summit.com to view the programme and book your place.
Joanne Roney OBE, president, Solace; chief executive, Manchester City Council
This article first appeared in LGC. Click here to read the article in full on LGC’s website.