12th November 2013

Two weeks ago we, perhaps foolishly, decided to write a series of posts about central and local relationships and how they can be improved.

We accept that there are large political forces at play in terms of the relations between local and central government and won’t pretend to know how to fix them but we do believe that there are small ways to build up the relationships between staff in the two parts of government which could have a profound effect.

Despite the above belief last week we took a small detour into some of those political elements and discussed the future of the DCLG but this week we are back on programme looking at the cultural elements that impact the people who work in the two sectors.

As such, this week we want to discuss secondments.

I think it is fair to say that there is a fair amount of scepticism about secondments, both internally and externally. At its best a secondment can benefit the staff member and the employer, developing new skills for the staff member and bringing back experience that can benefit the sending organisation. A good secondment can also benefit the receiving organisation; bringing in different skills to an organisation on a temporary basis.

Despite these benefits secondments between central and local government are very rare. And when they do happen they seem to be universally at very senior levels.

We believe this is a shame. We learn a lot by osmosis and working alongside people from different areas would undoubtedly rub off on us and promote understanding between the sectors. It would also be good experience for the staff in question. Local government is very much about delivery whereas many elements of the civil service are about policy development. Neither are better than the other but both are linked but subtly different and a well-rounded member of staff, in either sector, would benefit from experience of both.

What’s more we honestly believe a civil servant who’s spent time in local government will make better policy decisions in Whitehall and a local government bureaucrat who’s worked in Whitehall will have unique insights into how to deliver certain policy areas. 

If this was to work how would we do it? Well, we’d set it up as a series of job swaps; instead of these being set secondments (with all the budgetary confusion and pain to the line manager these bring) every person moving would be replaced with someone coming the other way. Indeed, if this was formalised we could ensure that the roles being swapped were compatible (and not all universally senior but instead a good mix) and also ensure that there was a ready throughput of swapped staff.

Staff would benefit and we believe that overall public policy would benefit too.

If ten local authorities each committed to swap ten staff a time and the DCLG offered 50 staff and other departments another 50 we believe this would be a really interesting pilot. We accept that this isn’t the most radical proposal in the world, and that it might not work, but this is the sort of low impact risk well worth taking. Even if it just helps develop a few careers or deliver a few projects in more interesting ways or helps build a little understanding we believe it would be a job well done.


As always, we’re really interested in other people’s comments on this idea and any other ideas you might have. Please do comment below or drop us a line at gareth@welovelocalgovernment.com or glen@welovelocalgovernment.com

Original source – We Love Local Government – Blog

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