Joanne Roney: Government must invest in local leadership development


A local leadership academy would increase resilience within local government and share learning across the country, writes the Solace chairman and chief executive of Manchester City Council.

The relentless nature of the pandemic response, after a decade of managing tough budget cuts, has taken its toll on all of us, some more than others, which means the recruitment and retention challenges that councils were faced before covid-19 are even more acute now.

This comes at a time when the demand for services is increasing and the challenges facing our people and places are becoming increasingly complex.

Joanne Roney, Chair of Solace and Chief Executive of Manchester City Council

The lack of workers, let alone those with the right skills and experience, across multiple service areas and at different levels of the organization, is clearly a concern and was a recurring theme in many sessions and discussions during from last month’s Local Government Association conference in Harrogate.

Having clearly heard the messages that I and others have delivered about the magnitude of the problem and the need for serious support from central government, it is particularly pleasing to see the report recently released by the House of Lords public services, Rethinking the public services workforce, recommending greater prioritization of preventative services. This is something that Solace has always demanded and that we, as leaders of our places, know represents a much more effective and efficient use of our limited physical and financial resources.

Churn at the top

It is also great to see the report acknowledging Solace’s ‘local first’ proposal to attract more high quality graduates to work in local government. Those of us who already work in the industry and around it know how incredibly challenging yet rewarding it is to try to deliver top quality services and achieve the best results for our communities.

It is absolutely essential that first-time CEOs receive all the support and training they need.

It is, however, deeply unfortunate that the fulfilling quality of careers in local government is not better known and seen as an attractive option for all, but especially by the people we represent.

While there are labor issues in a number of our service areas, there is also quite a bit of turnover at the top of the boards.

LGC research has shown there have been 64 new paid department head appointments – around a fifth of all councils in England – in the past two years, with almost three quarters (72%) becoming directors generals for the first time.

While the introduction of new talent and ideas is certainly a positive thing, this situation leaves us with a generation of raw CEOs with less strategic experience than those they follow. It is therefore absolutely essential that first-time CEOs receive all the support and training they need to do their jobs with consideration and confidence, and to lead their organizations effectively.

Local Leadership Academy

The Leveling White Paper recognizes the fundamental importance of local leadership saying, “Stronger local leadership is essential to raising living standards, improving public services and increasing people’s pride. He also warns “the loss of institutional memory and capacity… goes hand in hand with deteriorating economic and social performance.”

It is not fair that local government is the only important part of the public sector that does not receive meaningful leadership and development support from government.

And it is the CEOs who are able to implement an open and transparent culture from top to bottom within their organizations and ensure the highest standards are maintained across the industry.

It is therefore unfair that local government is the only important part of the public sector that does not have meaningful leadership and development support from government to ensure that the people we attract and employ today are capable of meeting the challenges of tomorrow.

Solace proposed creating a local leadership academy to complement the work of the National Leadership Center and the new Leadership College for Government, but with a particular focus on local government. This would provide a plethora of benefits for individuals and organizations, including strengthened implementation of national policy at the local level, increased resilience within local government, and sharing of knowledge and best practices across the country.

And that’s not to mention the value of networking. I know firsthand how important it is to have a group of peers to call upon when faced with incredibly complicated challenges and emergencies that lately seem like an alarming occurrence. I want everyone in a leadership position in local government to be able to draw on their own networks, so we can all work together to solve the problems that matter most and deliver better services and results to all of our communities. .

Repair the leaking ship

The local leadership academy would also help develop diverse talent, particularly at the senior level, which must be an important part of our approach to ensuring not only that councils provide the best leadership in our communities, but also a workforce that represents really the people we are here to serve. .

To be a success, the local leadership academy will require government investment, but the sums involved pale in comparison to the more than £4billion spent each year on NHS education and training.

For too long, local government has been like a leaky ship with personnel infiltrating without the means from above to keep the ship sufficiently full. We need to fill the holes that, if left unchecked, risk getting bigger while finding ways to turn on the talent tap and unblock the pipeline that ensures we, and those who follow us, have the capacity and agility to maintain service. levels to a higher level.

Joanne Roney, President, Solace; Chief Executive, Manchester City Council

LGC is the media partner for Solace Summit, taking place in Birmingham on October 12-13. Click here to consult the program and reserve your place.

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