While it is councillors who decide on local government policy, it is the officers who make sure those decisions are put into action, and that local services are delivered correctly
Local government officers are responsible for the practical development of council policies and procedures, and need to ensure that local services are delivered. As an officer, you would need to figure out how to implement public policy in a cost effective way.
Local government offers a broad professional environment with good prospects for progression and promotion. It covers a range of officer roles, with many specialist areas including:
- human resources
- leisure and recreation
- social work
This work is likely to involve contact with members of the public, councillors, administrators and specialists in other departments or other local councils or authorities. Some posts, particularly more senior roles, also involve committee work. Some less senior roles will work more exclusively within specific departments, but can still be responsible for a variety of services.
Specific activities vary depending on the local authority and department, and on the level of responsibility. Some departments will involve a lot of work with the public, others may have a more technical function and some will work more predominantly with other council staff and departments.
Common functions include:
- assisting in the formulation, planning and monitoring of policies and procedures
- coordinating the implementation of council decisions and circulating reports to those affected
- providing support and guidance to the elected workforce, for example to cabinet or local committees
- coordinating communication strategies, including publications and departmental websites
- arranging and servicing meetings
- researching, preparing and writing up reports and briefing papers
- liaising with other council departments, such as finance or marketing
- liaising with external partners and agencies, including private and voluntary sector organisations, contractors and other local authorities
- coordinating departmental and corporate plans
- monitoring and reporting on performance and quality issues, ensuring value for money
- managing and evaluating projects
- organising and collecting data for external inspections, including evidence of compliance with legislation
- providing information, advice and guidance on policy and performance
- working with members of the public, councillors and other stakeholders, presenting information at meetings when required
- dealing with enquiries and giving advice
- supervising and managing staff
- managing budgets and funding
- providing support and a strategic steer to the management team relevant to your specific area
- developing and promoting a policy and performance framework, which contributes to the operational and strategic functioning of the department
- coordinating responses to national and local consultations on specific policy areas, such as education.
- The range of typical starting salaries is between £16,000 and £20,000, although this can vary considerably depending on the area and type of work.
- The starting salary for graduates on the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) for local government is £24,174, plus London weighting.
- With experience salaries can reach £22,000 to £38,000.
Salaries are likely to vary between local authorities and according to the specific role and area of work. Higher earnings are possible with progression to senior management or head of department positions. Some authorities have performance-related pay schemes.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
The majority of jobs in local authorities normally work to a 9am to 5pm, 35 to 40-hour week, Monday to Friday. However, many local authorities offer a number of different ways of flexible working, including flexi-time, part-time working, job share, reduced or compressed hours, and working from home.
Some evening and very occasional weekend working may be required to attend meetings or events.
What to expect
- All local government employees are entitled to a generous amount of annual leave and additional public holidays.
- Further benefits include the eligibility to join the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), which is a statutory, funded pension scheme.
- Career breaks are possible, although self-employment or freelance work is unusual in this line of work. Casual employment through agencies is quite common and can offer a flexible way of working with generally higher rates of pay, although with considerably less job security.
- The work is predominately office based, mainly in shared offices and can involve contact with a variety of people. Some local government officers will be expected to carry out site or estate visits, which can be conducted in all weathers.
- For some senior posts, the role may involve travel within a working day, although absence from home overnight is uncommon. A company car is not usually offered, but mileage for site visits or travelling to meetings is generally payable.
- Opportunities exist throughout the UK, in most large towns and cities.
- Overseas work or travel is highly unlikely, but again may be possible depending on the department or seniority of the role.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a relevant degree or HND in the following subjects may increase your chances:
- business studies and management
- legal studies
- politics, government or public administration
- social administration and social policy.
Degree discipline is less important than personal qualities and skills; an understanding of political structures and knowledge and experience of local government work are considered more important than subject studied.
Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is commonly possible, and there are many opportunities to join local government at any level and work your way up to more senior roles. A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed.
Local government is one of the largest graduate employers in the country, with graduates taken on by all councils in all service areas, and offers the ability to complete professional training while working.
You will need to show:
- good organisational and negotiation skills
- excellent written and spoken communication skills
- the ability to deal with people from a variety of backgrounds
- a good working knowledge of the relevant policy area
- project management and a logical approach to solving problems
- computer literacy and keyboard skills
- the ability to work well as part of a team
- an understanding of, and commitment to, equal opportunity service delivery.
Some local authorities take students on work experience placements, which can be a useful resource for anyone interested in a career in local government. This will help gain an insight into the work of local authorities, get practical pre-entry experience and improve working knowledge. It will also help develop valuable transferable skills and provide relevant references.
The graduate recruitment programme for local government in England and Wales is the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP). The NGDP is a two-year, fast-track programme for graduates with at least a 2:2 degree in any discipline. The recruitment process is done in a number of stages and successful candidates will start their new roles in April, working across three different areas in their chosen participating council. Trainees are expected to leave the programme with a qualification in leadership and management.
Many local authorities run their own in-house graduate or management training schemes, with management trainees sought in a number of disciplines across various departments. The programme will be flexible but will run for two to three years and will include work placements in a number of different departments and roles. Successful entrants to the programme may be expected to undertake a postgraduate diploma in a specific discipline, and the salary will be linked to time spent on the programme and further qualifications gained.
Such programmes have a high success rate, with many trainees going on to hold senior positions within the authority. Competition can be fierce though, so pre-entry experience is at the very least desirable if not essential.
Entry qualifications vary for each local council and authority, although many will have minimum requirements for four or five GCSEs (A* to C) including English and maths, or equivalent. At whatever level, applicants with relevant work experience are often preferred.
Local councils and authorities are the sole employer of local government officers. However, local government is the largest employer and one of the largest graduate employers, and is a huge service provider covering areas such as:
- emergency services
- environmental and social services
Corporate services within local governments include functions such as:
- central offices' cleaning and maintenance services
- finance, administration and secretarial services
- legal services
- management services
- registration of births, deaths and marriages.
Local government roles are affected by any downturn in the national economy and job cuts can occur when funding is low and budgets need to be trimmed.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Local Government Association (LGA)
- Local Government Jobs - the official recruitment website for local government
- myjobscotland - recruitment portal for local government jobs in Scotland
- National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP)
- local and regional press
- local authority websites, which often have additional information to adverts that are in local or national press.
Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies.
Many local authorities produce internal vacancy bulletins, so gaining casual term-time work or even taking a post to get 'a foot in the door' could be used to find those otherwise hidden vacancies.
Most local authorities provide employee training and development. Many have shown their dedication to the continued professional development (CPD) of staff by achieving Investors in People (IiP) status, which is a national initiative to promote excellence in training and development.
It is common for all new starters at every level to have a period of induction training prior to starting the job. This is then followed by on-the-job training from experienced staff, supported by any formal training courses that are required.
For graduates, many local authorities will run specific graduate training schemes, or management trainee schemes, which will typically be a series of work placements in a variety of roles and departments and will generally be supported by further academic qualifications.
Many local authorities assess employees' individual training needs through regular job appraisals, which enable the line manager and the employee to identify current and future training needs. This could involve in-house training sessions or support towards other formal qualifications.
Membership of professional bodies will depend on the department in which you are employed. Training in a specific area relevant to the job will often provide the basis for membership of a professional group.
The chances for promotion in local government are excellent. With the right mix of knowledge and experience there will be many opportunities for career development and progression into senior management positions.
There is no typical career path, because the diverse nature of the profession and the range of jobs, roles, and departments, means people will tend to pursue different routes depending on their own strengths and interests.
Movement between internal departments and between different local authorities is quite common and can be a good way of gaining broader experience and advancing your career. Many local authorities may allow you to transfer to different departments on a secondment basis.
Opportunities for promotion will depend on your ability, the size of the authority and the frequency of vacancies arising.
It may sometimes be necessary to move to another council or authority for promotion to a senior position.