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LOCAL GOVERNMENT ENEMY NO.1 - THE STAFFING CRISIS

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There is a story - it may or may not be true -which neatly illustrates the recruitment wasteland councils face. Som...
There is a story - it may or may not be true -which neatly illustrates the recruitment wasteland councils face. Some time in the 1980s a council recruited a promising young man to a fast track officer training programme designed for
potential chief executives.
Disappointingly this fellow dropped out after about a year. Since then, no-one has applied to the council articulating a desire to become a chief executive and the programme has ceased to exist.
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has been urgently discussing officer recruitment with the Local Government Association. The association's response was: 'Tell us about it - potential councillors aren't breaking the door down either.'
There is a devastating shortage of frontline staff. In October last year the Audit Commission said the social care sector must increase its staff by 3% by 2006 to keep up with demand. This is six times the projected growth of the general labour market.
Deeply disturbing situations on the ground are already resulting from the shortage. Take a secure children's home opened in Hammersmith & Fulham LBC last year. A Department of Health report on the unit found teenagers had sex, smoked drugs and watched pornography on TV. It blamed this on slack management, but also the recruitment crisis.
Image is part of the problem. Only a tiny percentage of graduates consider a career in local government, presumably lured away by the corporate shilling, media razzmatazz or 'sexier' good causes.
Pay is another problem. The 'crisis of prosperity' experienced by some areas of the country means public sector workers cannot afford to live there. This means a particular drain for those areas, but influences people everywhere when they are deciding whether or not to work in the public sector.
The media has loudly trumpeted the shortage of frontline staff - it is, after all, a good story - and there are signs of hope. The government is investigating new qualifications to make social care a more attractive career. Former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead finally gave teachers a boost - by resigning. But solutions need to be found for the shortage of officers and politicians as well.
The recruitment crisis is no joke. Without people to do the work, there is no future for local government.
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