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Officers face burgeoning burdens and reduced rewards

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The onerous nature of the responsibilities of local government’s most senior officers has been all too apparent on LGCplus as of late.

We have examined how a row between Birmingham City Council’s leader and chief executive about how to end one of local government’s most damaging strikes when there’s no money left in the kitty has inevitably cost one of them their role.

LGCplus on Monday revealed how perhaps the sector’s most experienced chief executive has opted to move out of his comfort zone to rebuild shattered Kensington & Chelsea RBC, rather than seek the easier option of remaining at the council with which his management is synonymous.

The truth is, life is becoming ever more complicated – and less rewarding – for everyone in local government

And we have reported at length on children’s services – the warning that more councils could lose them as a result of so many being judged to be failing, and the continuing attempts to apportion blame for Rotherham MBC’s child sexual exploitation scandal. Failure in this area costs far more than mere careers.

This is an apt day for LGC to publish its pay survey for the most senior roles. It reveals continuing restraint in the pay of newly appointed chief executives, who on average receive 2% less than their immediate predecessor in their role. Our revelation has prompted warnings that councils risk becoming unappealing destinations for talented employees.

In an era in which employment boundaries between local government and other parts of the public and private sectors are more fluid, there is less tempting chief executives to stay within local government – and more burdens that may drive them away.

Chiefs face austerity continuing at a time of rising demand for services. There is a rightful and growing demand for accountability when things go wrong. They must contend with being at the heart of an ever more intricate web of relationships featuring other councils, combined authorities, public sector organisations and the private sector, all of which require attention. And there are far fewer managers overall.

LGC focused its investigation on the pay of chief executives. But the impact of pay restraint is felt at all levels of the council workforce (and, in particular, those working in often minimum wage roles for private companies commissioned to provide social care; working for Tesco is surely more lucrative and less stressful). These workers desperately deserve more – but, as Tony Travers warns, any easing of pay restraint risks resulting in service cuts unless more resources are found overall.

The Birmingham example emphasises the pressure on all parties. A council leader needed to end a strike or face political annihilation, an interim council chief executive needed to keep a lid on expenditure or face further intervention and refuse workers fear losing pay and working less favourable shift patterns. The truth is, life is becoming ever more complicated – and less rewarding – for everyone in local government. It is only the passion and commitment of its workforce to local populations that ensures its valuable work is accomplished.

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