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Civil servants need council experience

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Top civil servants should work in local government for at least two years to broaden their understanding of the world beyond Whitehall, according to local government minister John Healey.

"I would like to see, across the board, nobody promoted in the civil service unless they spend at least two years in a local authority running a public service programme," Mr Healey told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference.

Speaking after the Centre for Local Economic Strategies event, the minister praised former Nottinghamshire CC chief executive Peter Housden, who is permanent secretary at the Department for Communities & Local Government, and former Islington LBC chief Helen Bailey who landed the role of director of public services at the Treasury.

Confirming that all civil servants should spend two years in local government, he told LGC: "It’s an idea I’d like to see debated and put into practice.

"It would be good to broaden the experience that senior civil servants have of service delivery. And good to broaden the experience and understanding they have of the country outside London."

David Clark, director-general of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said there had been a "sea change" in attitude to the expertise of top council officers, who often had proven track records of delivery of key objectives which were often not matched by civil servants.

"As the civil service has struggled to become a delivery agency, it has struggled to find deliverers. But in local government you’re judged on outcomes we have that experience."

He said it was up to elected members to decide if councils could offer secondments for civil servants.

A spokesman for the First Division Association, which represents top civil servants, welcomed interchange across the public sector.

But he added: "There is little point in being overtly mechanistic about how this should be achieved. Much depends on the individual and their own background."

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