Local authorities have had to deal with significant changes in recent years, and with further funding cuts on the horizon they are finding new ways to deliver their services, specifically through collaborating across regions. Anne Mackintosh, Skills for Justice Director for England, looks at how Skills for Justice can help local authorities develop flexible workforces, to make sure they are ready for the challenges of the future.
In the face of the most severe funding cuts in decades, local authorities are changing their approach: finding new ways to work together to deliver their services and manage the needs of their communities.
Empowering authorities through devolution deals
One significant new approach is to create devolution deals: bringing authorities from across neighbouring regions together to handle funding collectively. These deals aim to empower local authorities, giving them responsibility for spending on a wider regional basis, and the opportunity and flexibility to respond to local issues from a local perspective.
Earlier this year saw the establishment of the biggest such deal to date, the West of England devolution deal between Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire councils. The deal, worth around £1billion, will give the councils combined powers over major transport projects, the local economy and housing concerns across the regions. Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees described it as “the biggest change in local decision-making powers for generations.” Elections will be held for a “Metro Mayor” to oversee the group next year.
The West of England devolution deal came hot on the heels of the announcement by Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy that regions with elected Mayors would be likely to receive “the main share of funding” going forward. Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Tees Valley are all set to hold Mayoral elections in the new year.
Local solutions to local issues
Devolving responsibility in this way gives local authorities great flexibility opportunity to manage their own budgets as a collective and avoids the one-size-fits-all approach of central Government. Authorities can introduce local solutions appropriate to their own local issues, however, the deals represent a dramatic shift in approach and workforces will need to be prepared to meet this challenge.
Creating a sustainable sector
Skills for Justice hold expertise in strategic workforce planning, helping organisations develop a capable and flexible workforce and ensure they are working in the most efficient and effective way. From researching workforce needs, to sharing good practice, developing employer-led qualifications and support with apprenticeships, we are committed to developing a productive and above all sustainable local authority sector.
For example, to address the current skills shortage and ageing workforce population in Trading Standards and Environmental Health Officers, Skills for Justice is currently working with 10 Local Authorities in Scotland to develop a new Modern Apprenticeship in Regulatory Services. Creating a vocational route into these professions will not only increase numbers but also increase diversity in these roles in the future.
With further strain on funding on the horizon, it is vital that local authorities are responsive, efficient and relevant to their communities. With a suitably skilled and flexible workforce, it can be seen as an opportunity and not a challenge.