Every council must produce a workforce development plan to comply with the government's Local Government Pay & Workforce Strategy. This is about organising people and skills so authorities can deliver effective services in future.
It's a challenging task. The labour market is tight, skills shortages are predicted in certain key areas, the workforce is ageing and demands for efficiency and excellence are increasing. So authorities need to take steps to build capacity into the workforce.
'Workforce planning means thinking about what you are trying to achieve as an organisation, and as a service, and what the workforce issues are,' says Joan Munro, national adviser, workforce strategy, at IDeA.
'Employers have got into the habit of thinking that the workforce we need will always be there. But we need to look at the context - for instance, the average age of social workers is 49, so authorities need to look at how they will recruit younger people to replace them when they retire.'
Lateral thinking is a must, says Ms Munro, citing authorities like Bristol which has set up a 'village' of older people who live independently but near each other, making it easier for council staff to support them.
'Local authorities need to look at the new skills that are needed for different working styles - such as outsourcing or working in partnership with other providers,' she stresses. 'Remodelling is also valuable - the same number of people doing their jobs in different ways.'
And this shouldn't just be left to HR. Ideally it should be part of IT strategy and that of the finance department, says Ms Munro.
For more information, see IDeA's Guide to workforce planning in local authorities - to download a free copy, visit www.idea-knowledge.gov.uk.
Joan Munro is speaking at LGC's people management conference on 12 July. For details go to www.lgc-peoplemanagement.co.uk.