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Devolution goals will be unfulfilled unless we have expert staff

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LGC’s chief executive insider demands new skills for councils to take advantage of the opportunities offered by devolution

There is no doubt that we in local government will get more powers; if national politicians backtrack there will be hell to play. I’ve now started worrying about how we will cope when devolution occurs.

It is an exciting prospect, and definitely the right thing to do, but it is going to make things twice as hard. According to Sir Bob Kerslake, we have another five years of cuts which will be even harder than the last five years. Something to look forward to! Then there’s the twist: as responsibilities are devolved to us, will we be passed on appropriate funding? Anybody who thinks we will is either a saint or stupid.

Every time we have been given more to do we get fewer resources than were previously used. It is almost a rule of nature. (I would never admit it, but don’t we do it too as we “empower” voluntary organisations to take on responsibilities?)

No change there then…more to do and less to do it with. Then smarter ways of working, flatter organisations, shared services, preventative strategies, partnering and other examples of jibber-jabber take centre stage.

But, and this is where my worrying hits a brick wall. Jibber-jabber will stay just that unless we have excellent staff and managers to turn it into real change. I will defend my existing staff and managers to the hilt, but we are going to lose more over the next few years and we will need to recruit new skills and expertise.

How are we going to get and retain the staff we need? Pay is going to be a big issue. At the same time we will continue to hold down wage costs, the private sector will be recovering, hoovering up talent. As employers we need to have a much more sophisticated and long-term staff pay strategy.

But don’t worry! People will flock to us because we are good employers! A recent survey by the Institute of Leadership & Management showed that public sector employees trust their employers least, even less than in banking and finance.

Personally I’m not worried as the main driver of staff trust is “openness” of leaders. I’m so indiscreet at the best of times. But I do worry about the sector and how we are going to navigate these exciting times.

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