A wave of enthusiasm for partnership work and expectations for a substantial fall in the size of directly employed workforce have been revealed by an LGC survey.
More from: 2020 vision of local government
As a further round of austerity approaches, LGC sought the opinions of local government chief executives, directors and heads of service on the changing roles of councils by 2020. The survey, supported by Hay Group, attracted 267 responses.
In terms of service delivery, the emphasis will be very much on partnerships of all kinds, respondents revealed. Eight in 10 said they would deliver services in future through closer partnerships with other authorities (compared with five in 10 last year), and three-quarters of respondents said they would do so through more partnerships with the private and third sectors.
The proportion of respondents who said they would work more closely with health agencies has doubled over the past year, from a third to two-thirds, further demonstrating the importance of moves to integrate services.
Hay Group head of local government practice Jonathan Magee is keen to stress partnership must be based on trust to work.
“Collaboration alone will not make any significant difference without a foundation of trust, place leadership and evidence-based business cases for change which are shared jointly across organisations. Many organisations are blaming lack of collaboration on organisational cultural differences and misaligned
incentives locally,” he says.
The intention to outsource more services in future has increased fivefold since 2013’s survey, to just under 51%. Similarly, the proportion of authorities that describe themselves as moving towards a ‘commissioning council’ model has increased from 33% to 58% over the period.
However, 16% of respondents said they plan to bring more services in-house in the future. Over 43% of respondents said that by 2020 they expect to outsource two-fifths or more of services. One in 20 expected to outsource between 80% and 100% of services by 2020.
More than half of respondents expect the percentage point increase in outsourcing by 2020 to be of up to 20. A further fifth said it would increase by between
20 and 40 percentage points.
Around two-thirds of respondents said their councils would need to develop commercial skills among their workforces by 2020, while 52% said they must boost digital communication skills. A similar proportion said their commissioning skills needed honing by 2020, while technology skills were cited as an equally important area for improvement.
When asked about changes in workforce size by 2020, 17% of respondents said they expected workforces to reduce by 36% or more. Twenty-six per cent
said it would reduce by over a quarter. Just 7% said it would remain constant or increase.
“Chief executives have led their organisations successfully through very difficult changes, reconfiguring services and making difficult decisions while retaining high levels of service quality,” Mr Magee says.
“Further change is coming, but leaders can create a positive future for local government and public servants and the communities they serve. It may be the end of local government as we know it, but it’s the beginning of a new and positive era.”
This largely ties in with respondents’ views of chief executives’ roles. They said chief executives are likely to remain firmly as driving vision and strategic direction for their authorities, with 53% of participants selecting this option. Around a fifth said the chief’s role in 2020 would be to shape councils’ agendas and support partnership working. Both figures represent little change from last year’s views.
Driving change within workforces is a primary task for council chief executives, Mr Magee says. “It is clear that better workforce planning and the attraction
of key talent will be essential for success. However, local government can be too cautious in selling the benefits of public service as an attractive employment proposition and recognition arrangements are too inflexible,” he adds.
Business and growth
Respondents said that councils’ main role in stimulating economic growth was an indirect one, working towards local growth by working through collaborations and partnerships. In a question in which respondents had to rank five viewpoints on the role of councils in driving growth this option scored the
most highly, with 982 out of a possible 1,250.
However, in second place came a different model; that in which councils directly stimulated local growth through regeneration and investment in the area.
Closer collaboration with the private sector to stimulate growth was the third most popular option, while there was less enthusiasm for the two remaining models: stimulating growth either by focusing on education and skills, or by direct employment.
When asked about the impact of their councils’ relationships with their local enterprise partnerships, almost four in 10 respondents said that although their LEP provides scope for collaboration, it “needs to be more closely aligned” with councils’ objectives.
This reflects similar views from last year’s survey; as in last year’s poll, around a quarter of respondents said their council works with their LEP to develop joint plans and strategies. However, a greater proportion of respondents (20%) said that their LEP is a “real partnership” and “a core part of our growth strategy” than last year (12%).
When asked about improving relationships with local businesses, three quarters of respondents said councils could ensure their place had the right skills mix to attract and develop local businesses, with a similar proportion urging regular engagement with the Federation of Small Businesses, the chambers of
commerce and business improvement districts. Around half of respondents said councils should encourage or invest in the redevelopment of empty premises as affordable commercial space.
Mr Magee says that overall, partnerships, commercialism and building relationships with business are challenges that require stamina, commitment and direction.
“Local government needs to play a key enabling role across a place, bridging the gap between the needs of public and private sectors to ensure that long-term investments are in place to develop the right skills and capability to sustain the longterm economic viability of their areas,” he says.
“This again requires a clear vision, leadership and longterm commitment.”
Purpose and delivery
The survey found council staff on the whole see the primary role of local government in the future as that of a ‘leader of place’, driving investment and stimulating economic regeneration.
This is broadly in line with the views of respondents to a similar survey undertaken last year, which identified ‘leader of place’ as the primary purpose of local
authorities. Similarly, local authorities being a ‘champion of the citizen and community’ was identified as the second most important role for local authorities as it was last year.
Mr Magee says: “Our research shows that great, successful leadership of place requires a culture of trust and commitment between public and private sectors, collaborating for the greater benefit of businesses and communities within the place. Arguably, this has been attempted for over a decade with limited success. However, it is now a necessity rather than an option.”
Most respondents this year, as last year, did not feel the primary purpose of local government is mainly that of a commissioner of services,or a provider of last resort of statutory services.
It would appear that the introduction of public health duties for local authorities in 2013 has had its impact on staff views. In 2013’s survey, councils’ role in championing health and wellbeing within a community ranked as the fourth most important aspect of a local authority’s role, whereas this year, it ranked
Half of respondents worked at district councils, 17% worked at unitaries, 16% at counties, 12% at metropolitan authorities and 8% at London boroughs.
The survey was sponsored by Hay Group. The report was independently written and edited. Questions were drafted by LGC with input from Hay Group. Hay Group works with leaders to clarify their vision, strategy and priorities