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29th September 2021

Spending Review must address local government workforce crisis

Local Government is facing a multi-dimensional workforce capacity and capability crisis that must be addressed in the forthcoming Spending Review, says Solace, the leading members’ network for local government chief executives and other public sector professionals in the UK.

In its submission, published today, which includes data from a survey of members, Solace has identified a number of problems facing both the current and future sector workforce.

Most immediately a third (33%) of local authority chief executives and senior managers do not currently have enough staff with the appropriate skills and qualifications to run services properly/to an acceptable standard.

But the survey also found that the overwhelming majority (89%) of chief executives and senior managers are concerned about the pipeline of staff with the appropriate skills and qualifications to work in the most senior roles in the council over the next three to five years.

Solace has called for a number of urgent actions to address this situation, specifically that Government:

  • Collaborate with the sector to create a workforce strategy for local government, similar to that for teachers, nurses, and civil servants, which seeks to address both short- and longer-term challenges;
  • Invest £250m every year in education and training – equivalent to 6% of what is spent annually in health;
  • Generate a major advertising and recruitment campaign to promote the benefits of working in local government and the wider local public sector;
  • Invest £19m a year in Local First – a new training and development programme for high quality graduates and ‘career changers’ who would be otherwise unlikely join a local authority and/or local public sector body;
  • Set up a Local Leadership Academy to complement the work of the National Leadership Centre;
  • Develop career frameworks for key professional disciplines experiencing recruitment/retention issues (e.g. planners, lawyers, environmental health, and building control).

Solace President Joanne Roney said: “I joined local government as an apprentice aged 16 and in all my time working in the sector the outlook has never been as bleak as it is now. Councils were struggling to recruit and retain before Coronavirus, but the pandemic has pushed our heroic workforce to breaking point. Councils are staring down the barrel at a staffing capacity and capability crisis.

“It cannot be right that local government is the only prominent part of the public sector which does not have a workforce strategy underpinned by sustained investment to ensure the people we employ today are capable of meeting the challenges of tomorrow. It is imperative the Government engages with the magnitude of the problem.”

The Spending Review submission also reiterated Solace’s ask for a truly sustainable funding settlement for local government over a minimum of three years, but ideally five to match what the NHS gets. This sustainable finance settlement should also include an uplift in funding of at least 1% in real terms each year.

In addition to this, Solace has repeated its call for the Government to shift significant amounts of spending to social infrastructure, with a specific focus on community-led prevention and early intervention initiatives, to help build short term and long-term community resilience. This includes a request of Government to aspire to match the £100bn Conservative Manifesto spending commitment on physical infrastructure as infrastructure is not just about bridges, buildings, and roads – it is about people and communities too.

Notes to editors

Solace’s survey was conducted in August 2021. It received responses from 64 serving local authority chief executives and senior managers.