It’s been two years since the world stopped rotating on its axis and everything started to go seriously wrong. And here we are in the grip of a new, and probably not the last, coronavirus variant.
I’ve written a great deal about how resilient and frankly incredible our public services have been throughout this pandemic. As we enter the third year of disruption with no end in sight, I am reminded of a satirical meme claiming that 2022 is the world’s third attempt at 2020.That of course pays no homage to all those affected and I’d like to think that by now my views on this terrible situation and all the sacrifices that have come with it are not in doubt.
Only a few short months ago, we returned to the Park Lane Hilton for The MJ Awards. In a way it felt normal and in a way it felt anything but normal. To be back together in that room was a huge celebration, not just for those who were there but for every single colleague they represented.
It was a triumph, an emphatic demonstration of how brilliant local government can be, even in the face of a global pandemic. I am so very proud that we were able to award Joanne Roney the chief executive of the year award and Plymouth City Council the local authority of the year award. Both wins, along with all the others, were richly deserved. And in a year when you might have assumed most would batten down the hatches and focus on anything but awards, it was powerful to see just how much the awards meant to everyone.
I’d go as far as saying that I’ve never seen such emotion in the room in all my years of judging and presenting. As Joanne said in her recent interview in The MJ, it’s all about ‘passion’ and ‘making an impact on people’s lives’.
I look forward to reading local authority of the year submissions for 2022.
So what might this year hold for us all in local government? I am confident that passion and impact are the motivators that will drive the sector even further forward over the next 12 months.
It’s not going to be without its challenges of course; money is literally too tight to mention, devo, pressures on front door services, the spectre of commissioners and interventions, the ballooning cost of adult social care, reorganisation, the rise in domestic violence, increasing inclusion, digitising services...all these things and many more besides will shape how local authorities continue to adapt and respond throughout the year. But adapt and respond we will.
Another pressure is the unprecedented turnover at chief officer and particularly at chief executive level. That turnover is well documented and is a combination of natural retirements and moves coupled with the fact that many such moves were delayed throughout 2020 and even 2021 as individuals chose to stay and help see their organisations through rather than leave when they might have originally planned.
It means we are seeing the biggest changeover of London borough chief executives most can remember in a relatively short period of time, let alone thinking about all the other changes around the country.
Part of the challenge is that there simply aren’t enough people to go round. As folks retire and others are promoted it is leaving many local authorities with key senior vacancies. While some will restructure those roles out and continue to increase spans of control, others will inevitably press on with executive recruitment. Either way, that is so often where interim managers come in.
I am continually asked what the future holds for senior interim managers and interim management generally in local government. The market is in rude health. I have said before that your peers are also your competitors when it comes to securing talent.
The same expertise shortage that is evident in the permanent market permeates the interim market too. That is one of the reasons why we are seeing candidates leaving roles ahead of completion dates – something that was a rare occurrence until recently. They are often ‘phasing out’ of one assignment early to begin another rather than risk missing out. Rates are rising, and while IR35 is IR35 (don’t get me started on that one), we are seeing an increase in statements of work and consultancy-style arrangements.
So there is a degree of poaching going on (even if it is never called that) and while interim managers are all too used to working within varying degrees of ambiguity or chaos, it seems some are becoming weary of that treadmill.
For example, we see all the time that those local authorities most willing to be flexible about working arrangements such as location and time spent on site are the ones most likely to secure and retain the talent they need. While the context and the individual nuances of recruitment change from place to place, often the broad skill sets needed by local authorities do not vary a great deal, and that is the overwhelming reason for this talent shortage.
And it is a talent shortage without obvious solutions beyond customers flexing their requirements to make the best of that available talent.
I’d emphasise the words best, available and talent because this is not about a compromise on quality. This means we are seeing a focus on what an organisation needs an interim to do in a given period of time rather than purely thinking about covering a permanent role. More often than not, those local authorities that are willing and able to merge their requirements with the best available talent in the candidate market are those that not only secure and retain that talent, but also benefit from it the most.
Neil Lupin is managing partner at Green Park Interim & Executive Search
Tel: 07967 826026
This article is sponsored content for The MJ