Magazine article Public Finance

IDA Delivers Indictment of Councils' Ability to Reform

Magazine article Public Finance

IDA Delivers Indictment of Councils' Ability to Reform

Article excerpt

England's local authorities lack the expertise to implement crucial government reforms, cannot retain high-quality staff and do not reward employees according to their ability to perform their jobs, according to a study by the Improvement and Development Agency.

Its survey of local government pay and workforce issues, seen by Public Finance and due to be published on April 26, also casts doubt on town halls' ability to successfully implement the government's radical white paper proposals, which will devolve new powers to councils.

It will do little to debunk the stereotype that councils are the last bastion of an undynamic and poorly prepared workforce, unable to deliver the high-class services Whitehall demands.

Joan Munro, the IDA's national adviser on workforce strategies, said that the study, which gleaned responses from 53% of England's local authorities, 'exposed a nervousness across local government about the sector's capacity to deliver what central government expects it to deliver'.

In particular, 72% of authorities acknowledged skills gaps in 'organisational and change management' affecting crucial areas of reform such as social care and planning. Over 60% of town halls also lacked 'business process redesign' skills, which are crucial to town hall efficiency commitments.

Munro acknowledged that these shortages 'cast doubt' on councils' abilities to deliver the government's planned devolution of powers, such as frameworks to scrutinise service commissioners at ward level.

'Authorities are right to be concerned, because there is a big change agenda in local government and councils are asking: "Can we handle this change?" In some areas, there just aren't enough specialists available to the sector. It's a huge wake-up call - if town halls don't have the right change management skills, then they will need them shortly.'

Sir Michael Lyons, who recently published his eponymous review of local government, told PF: 'My review team also raised some very serious concerns around capacity across local government - including skills sets at both officer and member level. It is something that the IDA and Local Government Association must tackle.'

But attempts to correct the situation could be hindered by a second problem highlighted by the IDA study: recruitment and retention difficulties. …

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