The local authority (or local government as it is also referred to) is responsible for a range of vital services for people and businesses in defined areas. It provides a huge range of services with around 800 distinct occupations – among them are well known functions such as social care, schools, housing, planning and waste collection.
More than two million people are employed by local authorities in the UK. These include school teachers, social services, the police, firefighters and many other office and manual workers. Education is the largest locally provided service.
Local authorities are coming under increasing pressures as they simultaneously deal with budget cuts from central government, and having to deal with an increased demand for their services. From the rising numbers of pupils in school to a fall in the amount of funds received, demands on local authorities are rising, while resources are being stretched. We explore some of the main challenges currently faced by local authorities.
The Local Government Association (LGA), the body that represents councils estimates that over the next two years local authorities are facing a funding shortage of £5.8bn. Councils have been forced to dip into their financial reserves to fund their care commitments and experts predict that some may be forced to declare technical insolvency in the next two years, as they struggle to cope with the financial pressures.
A less confident workforce
A survey by trade union, Unison, found that half of council staff are considering leaving their jobs. Six out of ten council workers surveyed said they do not feel secure in their job, with over half (53%) finding their workload unmanageable. The survey also found almost eight in ten (79%) council workers have no confidence in the future of local services due to spending cuts, with 83% saying cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job to their full potential.
A survey of over 300 local authority staff from The Guardian’s local government network exposed gaps in knowledge and training which could impede the development of modern public services. Staff responsible for driving change feel they may not have the skills to meet the demands upon them. The vast majority (77%) said they needed more training to do the job of commissioning well, while 14% said they were already being expected to perform jobs for which they did not have the necessary skills. Only 8% said they felt fully equipped to take on the job of commissioning.
Despite facing well-publicised austerity measures and difficulties, local authorities have had to persevere and transform, going from being seen as service deliverers to becoming collaborators. They need to develop a workforce that’s creative and empowered to make change but firstly, they need make themselves attractive to these potential new employees. They are not often seen as environments for entrepreneurial, dynamic or ambitious employees, although this notion is particularly inaccurate for today’s local authority workforce as they innovate their way through the funding cuts. Local authorities need to actively work to reverse this stereotype in order to attract the best talent. More outward-facing, with a focused recruitment strategy will be critical to attract a diverse range of skills and experiences, including people who would not previously have chosen to work within local government.
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