As an executive interim recruiter, I spend every day talking to local authorities about their recruitment challenges and needs, as well as helping candidates with their career progression. I am a recruitment expert, but I have never worked in a local authority. So last month when I was given the opportunity to shadow a Director of Public Realm at a London Council, I jumped at the chance. What better way to get to know the Council, the Public Realm team and the Director better, whilst also understanding the ins and outs of their day. Being offered an opportunity to see how it all works on the other side has proved to be an invaluable experience, and one that will impact on how I undertake my own role.
I arrived at 10 am, slightly nervous and in anticipation of what sort of a day I would be facing. Having met the Director many times now, I felt reassured in his presence. The team he has built around him were equally friendly, helpful and willing to share knowledge. It was a very informal initial meeting in which I learned about them, their previous roles and the ambitions they have for the Council. It was also a chance for me to explain to them why I was there, as they don’t often have recruiters following them around at work for the day! But for me it was simple. From a personal perspective, I find the work Local Government does not just fascinating, but intrinsic to everyday life. Why wouldn’t I take the chance to get a better understanding of an area of the public sector that is so often overlooked when it comes to recognising the essential work they do. But also from a professional perspective, it allows me to not only understand their immediate challenges and future ambitions better, but also the type of character that would best fit within the team.
The first meeting of the day was a development meeting which talked through how the department had progressed with the corporate pledges of the administration. There were notes against each one, who were responsible for them, what had been completed, and what still needed to be achieved. These key priorities are so important for them to keep track of because it means a lot to the residents and the Politicians who promise delivery. In total there are 120 different pledges that the council is trying to deliver and a great many of them fall within public realm. An irony not lost on the Director, given that they also have to find some of the biggest savings within the council before the next financial year.
It comes as no surprise that the biggest issue the council is facing is cost savings.
Within this meeting, finances were talked about relentlessly. Difficult conversations continued to surface, focussing on whether they would or should stop work on projects, as the budget is at its maximum capacity. It was a testament to how serious the Director was about figures matching up, because if not, savings would have to be found and jobs would be on the line. Getting the right outcome is key.
So, they have to start being more resourceful. Can they get the same outcome with fewer resources? Have they looked at all the areas to see where they could find savings?
In the afternoon I attended a member meeting which discussed Christmas markets and the plans for the area as well as the waste strategy for it. It was a very collaborative discussion between members and officers, talking through their hopes and long-term ambitions for the markets as well as the mark they want to leave on their residents this Christmas. Being the first Christmas in a while to be free from Covid rules and regulations, they wanted to project a feeling of togetherness and hope within their borough.
The officers shared their enthusiasm, but there was a very real possibility that unless the funding and grants come through, they simply wouldn’t have the resources to deliver on such a scale. They made sure to temper expectations whilst also remaining optimistic – after all, they have already put the work in so there is no reason to think they won’t get the results. But either way, they have been smart enough to design their levelling up agenda in stages, ensuring that however much money comes through, something will be delivered.
Being able to sit in on the member’s meeting was brilliant. I very rarely have member interaction in my role, but they are so fundamental to the goings on in the council that I really enjoyed hearing their thoughts as well as the passion with which they talk about their area. They truly want the best for their Borough.
All too soon the day came to an end. It was eye-opening, challenging, and loaded with information from start to finish. Now I feel much more confident talking about this Council to prospective candidates, and my colleagues even notice a difference in me. The day gave me a better understanding of just how much work goes into a council being prepared for whatever challenge is on the horizon, whether that be local or national. That in turn has given me a renewed sense of awe and respect for the sector, and for the people who work in it. As a recruiter, I look forward to finding great talent to support them on their journey.