Our Workforce and HR programme continued to support councils as employers as we moved into a new chapter of workforce challenges and uncertainty, where new and increasing demands on our workforce brought challenges and opportunities to work differently in our aim to be thriving and responsible employers.
The new demands on leaders and managers in local government are tough. We have developed our professional information, advice and resources across the range of people management topics from developing early careers, to wellbeing and flexible working, and supported councils to explore and adopt robust and effective business-lead HR practices to meet their priority needs.
In 2022/23, our offer of support focused on building skills, addressing recruitment and retention challenges, promoting new ways of working, conducting cost-effective national pay negotiations, and progressing organisational development.
We also provided a range of ways councils to share experiences, find solutions and embrace what works as they continue to develop effective, efficient and supportive modern workplaces.
During 2022/23, programme highlights and achievements included:
- we worked with more than 50 councils to provide specific, targeted and tailored support that helped them meet the particular challenges they are facing
- 97 per cent of responses from councils who received targeted workforce support or advice were satisfied with the support their council received
- our Apprenticeship Support programme continued to be the flagship of our early careers support to councils – we built on our advice and practical support by providing a range of surveys, MOT health checks newsletters, and our webinars attracted 132 councils this year
- we developed our LG Careers offer to include support to over 50 councils to be early adopters of the new T Levels qualification
- our Local Government Workforce Survey report 2022 shared valuable workforce data, including that 94 per cent of councils’ reported recruitment difficulties
- we responded by providing dedicated best practice recruitment guidance, including our new ‘Six Ps’ approach to support councils to create structured and effective recruitment processes (and which received over 1,000 page views in its first six months)
- our annual health check survey of the national Standards for Employers of Social Workers received more than 16,000 responses from more than 140 organisations, providing councils with a unique insight into a number of critical questions about the experiences of their social workers to support their work to increase the recruitment and retention of this key profession
- we developed a practitioners’ network of more than 100 workforce planners using our workforce planning guidance and model, focussing on long-term, place-based talent and skills management
- more than 1,000 delegates attended a series of interactive equality and wellbeing roundtable events, to share learning on embedding cultures and behaviours that support fairness, inclusion and employee engagement
- against a backdrop of increasing industrial action in the UK, we negotiated affordable pay agreements across the majority of national pay bargaining groups.
Case study – Harnessing the power of apprenticeships in councils
Our Apprenticeship Support programme has worked with local authorities and their maintained schools to manage the complexities of apprenticeship funding rules, apprenticeship levy transfers, the public sector target and workforce planning to harness the talent of apprentices for our sector.
Meeting the Government’s public sector apprenticeship target and accessing and pooling the apprenticeship levy funds.
We developed and expanded our Apprenticeship Support Programme to provide a range of practical support and advice for local authorities and their maintained schools on developing and enhancing their apprenticeship programme; while, at the same time, the programme worked closely with DLUHC and DfE to help shape the emerging policy implementation.
Our 2022 Local Government Workforce Survey reported that 94 per cent of local authorities were experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties. Apprenticeships are a vital way for local authorities to address this. Apprenticeships offer local government employers a greater role in harnessing talent and addressing skills shortages, providing a chance to 'grow their own' talent, building a pipeline of skills they will need for the future, while at the same time making their workforces more diverse by targeting younger candidates or those who might not share the same access to the labour market. They can also be used to upskill current employees and build management and leadership capability for the future within the existing workforce.
However, the way the new apprenticeship framework was introduced in England in 2017 brought challenges for local government employers. The new apprenticeship framework introduced new standards, supported by a levy and targets. While local authorities supported using apprenticeships to meet key priorities for skills development, many had difficulty accessing the apprenticeship standards they needed as they were not available when the new framework was introduced. In addition, the mechanisms introduced with the apprenticeship levy resulted in almost half of the levy that councils contributed being unspent and was returned to Government: local government paid approximately £798 million into the Apprenticeship Levy between April 2017 and December 2022 but have been able to spend only £359 million, equivalent to 44.5 per cent of available funds.
In response to these challenges, our Apprenticeship Support programme has expanded its offer of support to councils to meet apprenticeship targets. The support now includes:
- an ongoing series of webinars on key aspects of managing an apprenticeship programme
- a six-weekly newsletter providing advice and guidance
- 'Apprenticeship MOT’ reviews of council programmes
- sharing notable practice from around the sector
- mapping apprenticeship standards to job roles
- support for developing new standards that are important to the sector
- our annual apprenticeships survey of the sector.
We are now seeing apprenticeship starts growing year on year (with the exception of the pandemic-affected year of 2020/21). In England, we reported almost 14,000 apprenticeship starts in 2022/23, as part of the 71,000 apprenticeship starts for our sector since the scheme began in 2017.
Policy discussions with Government are another important part of our Apprenticeship Support programme as part of our ongoing efforts to amplify our voice on key issues affecting the capacity challenge in our workforce. We have successfully negotiated new ways for employers to pool Apprenticeship Levy funds and we continued to meet with officials from DLUHC, DfE and HMT to discuss new flexibilities in how Apprenticeship Levy funds could be spent and to discuss the expansion and development of appropriate apprenticeship standards for our sector.
We also asked Government to consider changes to the Pooled PAYE and Apprenticeship Funding Rules to address some of the long-standing issues preventing around 1,700 local employers, including non-maintained schools and town and parish councils from accessing apprenticeship funding. Discussions are ongoing to find a durable solution that could unlock several hundred apprenticeship starts and provide an important route to promote apprenticeships in schools.