The recent white paper Strong local leadership - quality public services emphasises the building of local capacity in recognition of the need for flexibility in the front line. It calls upon national local government organisations, such as the Employers' Organisation, to make a vital contribution to this capacity building and to enhance the managerial capacity of local government.
We have seen recruitment and retention difficulties intensify and spread beyond London and the south-east, with growing skills gaps in some professions.
We must do more to promote local government as a rewarding career option for everyone, but for young people in particular, especially graduates.
The time seems exactly right for the launch of the first-ever national graduate development programme for local government. Local government is the largest employer in the economy - with more than 2.2 million staff - yet, until now, has not benefited from a dedicated campaign at national level to attract the best graduates.
To meet this gap, the EO, with the help of councils, has put together a programme aiming to create a new generation of senior managers for local government in the 21st century.
The first group of 50 graduates will start work with participating councils in late September.
Participating graduates will be offered the opportunity to make a real difference to the future of council services and to develop project management, research, policy development and managerial skills in a variety of interesting and important work settings over a two-year placement. The starting salary will also be highly competitive -£18,500 to£22,000, depending on location.
A nationally co-ordinated programme will enable councils to make savings on individual recruitment costs and benefit from the economies of scale. Associates In Advertising will manage the promotion and advertising elements, with particular reference to the current group of final year undergraduates.
Gradweb has been commissioned to manage the recruitment side of the operation, beginning with the processing of the expected 2000-plus applications from graduates. The EO will have overall responsibility for national recruitment and selection and managing the process of matching successful candidates to councils whose requirements mirror their aspirations. It will co-ordinate the various national elements, including development days, induction, networking, mentoring programmes, placements outside the host authority - such as in the NHS, civil service, voluntary sector and private sector - and organise support for councils. The EO will also develop the post-graduate qualification element.
Above all else, councils will benefit from the contribution and ideas of a high-quality graduate wanting to make a real impact in the early stage of their managerial career. Smaller councils should particularly benefit from participation in the programme. Often, these councils do not have the capacity in corporate roles such as research, policy development and project management, to which graduates on the programme will be particularly suited.
For this reason, the EO will especially welcome expressions of interest from district councils who wish to join together to participate in the programme. Proposals from districts prepared to work in partnership with neighbouring county, metropolitan or unitary councils will also be encouraged.
About 20 councils run graduate programmes of their own and several have already indicated their willingness to participate in the national programme and are contributing to its development.
Chair of the EO Ian Swithenbank (Lab) says: 'Local authorities have long advocated a programme like the NGDP. It is a much-needed development that can only be successful if local authorities and the EO formulate an effective partnership. The benefits to local government are clear. The programme is key to the delivery of modern local services.'
Assistant director of policy and communications, Employers' Organisation