'Access all Areas'

Jonathan Swain and Rebecca Rampat from the executive recruitment specialists McLean Public highlight what local government can do to ensure it attracts commercial sector

As we all know, local government plays a pivotal role in shaping the lives of people across the UK and is at the very front line of the social, economic and political fabric of the country. However, local and regional government is often fundamentally misunderstood, particularly in terms of the sheer range of specialist skills and qualities that are required for such a complex and far reaching sector. The skills needed across local government continue to evolve at pace in an increasingly mixed economy of local government service provision and in the context of local authority public/private partnerships. We at McLean Public are seeing an increasing emphasis on technology, finance, transformation, project management, and marketing. According to APSE’s 2023 analysis, skills in green technology and the interface with digital technology platforms are particularly “top the list”.

Add to this the broader talent shortage. Local government is no stranger to the global skills shortage and this in many ways goes back to the 2010-2015 austerity days when, according to APSE statistics, councils lost not only 27% of their spending power but also 25% of their work force. Subsequently, during the pandemic whilst the civil service and the NHS experienced significant labour growth, the local government workforce grew by merely 0.2%.

While the public sector undoubtedly possesses talented and capable professionals, the commercial sector offers a diverse pool of knowledge and innovative thinking that can complement the sector. Here’s some of the key ways many local authorities are increasingly being successful in accessing this.

Promoting the local government EVP

To attract talent from the commercial sector it’s important local government effectively defines and communicates its employer value proposition. While financial reward may be a consideration for some people, it is often not the sole motivating factor for professionals, particularly later in their careers. Highlighting the intrinsic rewards of public service, such as the opportunity to contribute to local communities and enact positive social change can resonate deeply with prospective employees. Some councils are getting increasingly better at promoting their EVP, for example, by using staff stories and experiences to showcase what is really is like to work for a local authority. Also, many point out that career pathways can be exceptional in local government. Nowhere else can an initial career choice lead to something totally different – all whilst remaining in the same organisation!

Moreover, local government can offer unique benefits and opportunities that may not be readily available in the commercial sector. These include professional growth as well as the flexibilities councils can offer such as a commutable distance to work, flexible working and the increasing number of roles that can be done remotely. Not to be forgotten, where applicable, is the local government pension. Whilst this has evolved over time, it is a key part of the broader offer, and organisations could be more up front regarding the uniqueness of its offer.

Promoting the local government brand

There is an ongoing notion that not enough people want to work in local government because, as quoted by ‘People Management’ last year, it is all about “potholes, bins and social work”.  Also, according to Local Government Association figures, two thirds of the local government, in   workforce are now between the ages of 40 and 64. In many London boroughs, in particular, just under 10% of the workforce are under 30.  The constant flow of stories in the national (and often local) press about ‘bankrupt councils’ and ‘inflated council chiefs salaries’ add to this negative back story. However, most authorities separately and jointly with national bodies are increasingly on the front foot and determined to set out their brand and communicate this as compellingly as their commercial sector counterparts.

Adopting more flexible recruitment practices

Commercial sector candidates can perceive public sector recruitment processes as being too long, often involving extensive applications compared to the simplicity of submitting a CV. Many local authorities are now adopting more creative approaches to advertising across a variety of channels eschewing the now outdated ‘one size fits all ‘model. Long standing recruitment processes are also changing. Out goes lengthy and detailed processes and in comes the agility and pace of recruitment more commonly seen in the commercial sector.  Similarly, clearer (and briefer!) job descriptions, competitive compensation packages, and responsive communication throughout the hiring process are essential for attracting top talent irrespective of sector.

The ongoing challenge…and opportunity

As the working world continues to change, it is important that local a government continues to adapt and innovate to compete for the talent and skills it increasingly needs for the future. By providing a compelling EVP, embracing flexibility in work arrangements, highlighting the great work the local and regional government delivers, organisations can position themselves as uniquely compelling destinations for commercial sector professionals seeking meaningful careers.

If you’re struggling to diversify your organisation’s workforce, please get in touch as this is something McLean Public can support you with.

Rebecca Rampat

Associate Partner



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