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Local government fails to attract the young

A new report by the New Local Government Network suggests that councils will struggle to maintain services over the coming decade as one-third of experienced staff retire.

The report suggests that many councils will be left understaffed as senior managers retire and are not replaced with new graduates, who are put-off working in local government. According to the research, 100% of county councils, 94.7% of London Boroughs, 87.5% of English unitary authorities, 87.5% of metropolitan districts as having had difficulties recruiting at the managerial and professional level.

According to report author Nigel Keohane: "Our focus group research reveals a depressingly negative impression of working in local government.

"However, analysis shows that approaches to attracting talent too often reinforce negative perceptions. Jobs in local government are not marketed to an audience of the most talented but to a pre-defined catchment; mechanisms for recruitment exacerbate this trend. Jobs are not 'sold' for what they actually do, for their contribution to society or for the career development opportunities they offer.

"Yet, these are the incentives most attractive to potential recruits. A wide range of excellent benefits and an enviable pension are hardly ever marketed, even for senior posts," he said.

Local government is the largest employment sector in England, with 2.2M staff. Employees form 12.6% of Britain's workforce and 47% of the public sector workforce.

The research paints a very negative view of local government work. A typical stereotype of a local government worker is: "definitely middle-aged, probably wearing glasses, slightly overweight … white, middle-class man", or "spending their whole lives carrying out the kind of minutiae focusing on these things like parking fines and what type of seat is going to be at the bus stop".

These stereotypes have some basis in fact - two-thirds of local government employees are over 40, whilst the proportion of those under 25 is half that of the wider economy.

The report proposes a more 'outward-looking' approach to recruitment, and the introduction of a "transfer-fee" style system where councils are rewarded if they offer staff training by receiving a fee if they move on to another authority.

Training for local and central government should be scrapped, they say, and introduce a National Governing Britain Fast Track graduate recruitment scheme for the entire public service, to give graduates experience of working in both Whitehall and local government.

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