Preparing for Devolution - Workforce news, December 2015

This latest edition of the Workforce News looks at what councils are doing to prepare for devolution. Luann Donald speaks to Rebecca Cox, LGA's Senior Adviser on Policy and Finance, about the different ways that councils are signing up to the Government's devolution offer. And we hear from two councils involved in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire devolution submission about the workforce issues they are considering at this early stage of the process.

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Podcast transcript

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 00:14 – 00:52)
Hi and welcome to our latest Workforce News podcast. Today we've got a very hot topic for local government, we're looking at Devolution and to help us with this we have Andrew Muter who's the Chief Executive of Newark and Sherwood Council and also Angela Probert who's the Director for Transformation at Nottingham City Council. And they're going to help us look at how this changing relationship between Central Government and Local Government can impact on our workplace and on our workforce. But first we have Rebecca Cox here from the LGA to talk about what changes we see Devolution bringing for Councils. Rebecca what do we mean when we talk about Devolution?

Rebecca Cox, Senior Adviser, Policy and Finance, LGA
(Time: 00:53– 02:06)
Devolution's a word we're hearing a lot about at the moment. People might have heard about it in the context of Scotland getting more independence within the UK and that's something that's given a real momentum to a conversation about what that looks like in England. So people also talk about decentralisation, we in the UK have loads of powers that are held nationally at Westminster, so Westminster makes a lot of decisions about public services, about how we support our local economies, how we provide public services that people depend on. And what Devolution's about is a conversation about how we can bring some of those powers that are currently made nationally, to a local level. And for us at the LGA councils are central as being part of that, because they've got the democratically elected mandate. In some places they'll be looking at for example, challenges they have around businesses looking for certain skills that the current skills training system isn't providing. So they're in conversation with Government about negotiating a settlement whereby they get to make more of those decisions locally. Other places are looking at transport they might also be looking about some healthcare issues, and then they might even be looking at issues around energy or culture, all kind of services within the public sector and in the public realm more widely.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 02:07 – 02:17)
So  how is this different for councils from the other types of partnership working or shared working such as shared services, that we've become used to over the last few years?

Rebecca Cox, Senior Adviser, Policy and Finance, LGA
(Time: 02:18 – 03:28)
That's a really good question because council's over the years have a really good history of working, not just with other councils in their area to share back office services for example, but also working with different organisations and agencies within their place. We saw that through programmes like total place, people might have heard of community budgets and whole place working. Devolution is in some ways the step up from that, because for those areas who have signed a Devolution deal with Government, they've done it usually through the means of something called a combined authority, which is a new legal entity whereby the councils all sign up, so there's one place where decisions can be made. And for Government, the simplicity around accountability and funding, that they can devolve powers nationally down to a body that's not as small as a council, it's a bit bigger, they feel a bit more confident in the accountability at that level. So this is building on councils history of delivering efficiencies, of delivering better services through working together, but with a new legal entity ion the middle that gives some reassurance that they can take on greater powers, greater responsibilities and to a degree, greater risks as well, potentially.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 03:29 – 03:32)
So this could have a really big impact for our workforce?

Rebecca Cox, Senior Adviser, Policy and Finance, LGA
(Time: 03:33 – 04:26)
It could do and it's not just because there'll be some new structures and organisation in places, so combined authorities that I spoke about earlier, but also because councils will be working across potentially a wider geographic area than they currently do, there'll be some demands on the workforce skills, so do you have the right number of people to do geographic analysis, economic analysis, understanding the data across the whole area, to be able to make the predictions and the plans that you need to? From an organisational development perspective, also thinking about how you work differently with potentially other councils in the area. It might demand more from your resources in terms of servicing these new structures, you might also be working more closely with other public sector organisations in your place. So I think a lot to be thinking about and it would be worth having conversations locally with those who are leading the Devolution conversations as well.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 04:27 – 04:43)
Thank you Rebecca. Now we're going to hear from Andrew Muter who's the Chief Executive of Newark and Sherwood Council and he's going to tell us what's happening in his council for Devolution. Andrew can you tell us what are the main changes that are happening in your Council regarding Devolution?

Andrew Muter,Chief Executive, Newark and Sherwood District Council
(Time: 04:27 – 05:51)
I think the first is about influence so it's about changing the range of things we can influence so key decisions on things like skills, transport, infrastructure that are taken at a national level at the moment, come within a sphere of influence in which we can operate. So we start to be able to get some say in those decisions, to shape how those things impact on our community for the future. That then leads us to an issue about collaboration, because we do this jointly, we do it with 19 councils across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. And that means that we have to be very good at collaboration. We have to get beyond the old ways of working, this is not just partnership, it's about thinking about the skills that build up trust between different organisations that are working together. So influence, collaboration and then thirdly for me the end of the journey is integration, because there are some areas of public service that can better integrate to deliver better outcomes for people and that's got a massive implication for how we design work and design services in the future.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 05:52 – 05:56)
So Andrew what are the big changes for your employees that are coming out of this?

Andrew Muter,Chief Executive, Newark and Sherwood District Council
(Time: 05:57 – 07:30)
Well I think local government's pretty good in this world already, we have the experience of lots of partnership work. I think we need to think about how we continue to value those skills that made us good at partnership and how we develop those across all our professional staff and everybody who's engaged in local government work. So we start from a good base, but to get beyond that we really need to start to think about moving away from some of the emphasis we've had in the past on just professional qualifications. I don't mean by that that professional qualifications will no longer be relevant, they still will, but nobody is going to progress in this new world without also being very good at a range of generic skills that help us to lead, collaborate and work with our partners. So the key message I think is that our workforce development plans need to look at giving people that breadth of experience, that range of skills, that make them good at leadership. If anybody really wants to learn and understand more about this I think that the work that the University of Birmingham have done on the 21st Century Public Servant, is a really excellent starting point for this. But the key thing I think is that anybody working in local government now will understand that the history we have gives us a great start to be leaders across public service in the future.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 07:31 – 07:59)
Thank you Andrew. It's really interesting to hear from a Chief Executive‘s point of view how the work's progressing. We've got another perspective from a council involved in the same devolution bid, we're going to hear from Nottingham City Council and from Angela Probert, who is their Director for Service Transformation. Angela, we've been hearing about the different changes that devolution will mean for our workforce, what work have you been doing to hep chief executives and leaders get ready for all of this?  

Angela Probert, Strategic Director Organisational Transformation, Nottingham City Council
(Time: 08:00 – 08:53)
Well it's early days yet; we're still trying to sign off the deal obviously. The things that we've been doing are really starting to think about scenario planning models and how we will deliver devolution. Some sort of specific examples of that will be, what will it mean for the combined authority, because there's some real suspicion that it will mean increased bureaucracy and cost and we've got to think through that. We've also got to think things through like, will we have a lead council and how that will play out, but also how e will support the Mayor's office and the infrastructure that's needed. Secondly, we've got to think through how we will support and model the joint activity that is given to us through the devolved responsibility that we receive.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 08:54 – 09:02)
Angela, you mentioned that it is early stages of planning for devolution, but what are the things you've been doing to get the workplace and workforce ready for these changes?

Angela Probert, Strategic Director Organisational Transformation, Nottingham City Council
(Time: 09:03 – 09:30)
The things that we've been doing and looking at is sustaining and building really strong partnership relationships, because those will be so key going forward and if we haven't got those in place, because we won't have one organisation, we will have a combined authority and organisations supporting that, we're not going to be able to maximise the benefits to our citizens of devolution and what that will bring.  

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 09:31 – 09:49)
Thank you Angela. We're going to hear from Rebecca again about what kind of support LGA can give to councils as they're going through devolution. So Rebecca we've heard about lots of different ways that the councils can adopt their devolved powers, how can us here at LGA support councils with different workforce needs?

Rebecca Cox, Senior Adviser Policy and Finance, LGA
(Time: 09:50 – 10:39)
As ever, because we are the national body for councils we'll be working with other national partners particularly those like the Skills Council, who'll be really key to this agenda. We'll also be working with our other representative bodies to make sure that we've got good, strong working relationships and a shared understanding of what's happening and also importantly, we'll be continuing to work to represent councils and their employees on pensions to make sure the schemes are relevant and fit for purpose within this programme as well. Of course, we don't just work nationally, we also work locally and we've got a whole range of tools that can help councils around emotional resilience, around organisational transformation and then of course more technical offers around things like TUPE if that becomes an issue as well. Loads of tools on our website, both for workforce and devolution more generally, so really encourage people to go and have a look and just to pick up the phone and give us a call at any point.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 10:40 – 11:00)
Well, you can see this means big changes for our councils and our workforce and of course we'll keep you up to date with the progress of these reforms on our LGA website. In the meantime, if you have any questions or any information on this topic that you'd like to share with us you can email us at the usual address which is