Local Government: The Next Generation

Local government, and the range and method of services it delivers, has to change. We all know that, but are we actually making real change happen? Or more to the point, who is and who will do it?

I have just left a role in local government, and hope to return to a different one in a couple of months time. My reasons for leaving were to pursue a different type of career as an interim in this sector, but with or without the career change I have gone through a lot of soul searching over the past year or so.

The reason for this angst is dealing with the question of whether or not I, and particularly some of my colleagues, are the right people to lead local government through this period of uncertainty and change.

I have managed to convince myself that I am the right kind of person, but I would think that wouldn’t I? The reason for the wider question is that local government is predominantly run by ‘officers’ who have spent a long time working in, er, local government.

They have pensions to work towards, and a hinterland of days gone by when money was less tight and the sector felt it could do more. Many are used to doing things a certain way, and change of this magnitude does not sit comfortably with them.

But the world is very different now. We are constantly spouting the mantra that we have to think differently but, more importantly, are we acting differently? We are in a world where we will do less with less, but how many local government leaders are genuinely being radical about no longer delivering some services or completely redesigning the way they deliver others, including their own?

In some cases the requirement is for turkeys to vote for Christmas, but is the will and the imagination to do so inherent in many managers or leaders’ thinking?

The reason for this line of questioning is actually a positive one. There are many bright, talented, and ambitious people making their way in local government, who don’t carry the baggage of the past. And there are just as many making their way in other sectors, who could be major assets to local government. They do think and act differently without realising they are doing so.

If talent management and succession planning are going to work in the brave new world we all face, how are the new leaders going to get the opportunities to prove their worth? For every emerging star there is often a colleague standing in the way, stubbornly refusing to accept that the world has changed and yet they haven’t.

It may be time for some to step aside, to skip a generation. Longevity of service should become much less of an issue when appointing to senior roles, so that new talent can flourish alongside existing talent who have adapted to the current climate.

And some of those in senior roles should be asking themselves whether or not the future really is for them or, more challengingly, colleagues may need to have a word in their ear.

Transformation is all the rage in local government, so that the vital services that residents need can still be delivered in a seemingly endless period of austerity.

If the sector is going to thrive then it needs people at the helm who can act differently and not just pretend to think differently. If you, and even I, are those people, then local government has a bright future.

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