The UK is facing some stark skills shortages, exacerbated by Brexit, and as a result of the pandemic, many of the foreign nationals we have relied upon over the past decades to fill important roles, that keep the economy moving, have returned home. We are struggling to replace them with homegrown labour that either doesn’t have the skills, or the interest, in some of the more mundane but very necessary jobs in a functioning society.
For local government this means that many of the services it provides are struggling to recruit and retain workers to provide care, feed people or ensure the cleanliness of facilities and areas. For these services they are in a real battle with supermarkets and retail distributors, who are prepared to pay more for often simpler job roles. This is an increasingly uphill struggle.
In construction and building maintenance it’s not only tradespeople where there are growing shortages but increasingly councils struggle to recruit architects, surveyors and planners. Local authorities are forced to pay hefty premiums to others to supply these services or to agencies.
From HGV drivers to social workers, we are facing up to the fact that there simply aren’t enough qualified people to go around. Combine this with some of the seismic challenges society faces in a covid recovery, particularly within the care economy and the need to crack on with climate change mitigation and adaptation, then it becomes clear that the only way forward as a nation is to once again ‘grow our own’, but this of course will require enormous investment through the right mechanisms.
For generations local government played a key role in labour supply; providing apprenticeships, skills and training, not only for its own benefit but also for the wider local economy. Once qualified many moved into local businesses and the local supply chain. Over recent decades this role has contracted, as the role and resources of local authorities has diminished, or been substituted for other ‘cheaper’ alternatives with no long-term interest in skilling local people.
There is also strong evidence to suggest that when it comes to work programmes, that deliver employment and skills, local government has a much better record than national providers at matching people into roles and ensuring they stay there.
If Government want to maximise the bang for their buck in levelling up the country, then start investing in local councils. Allow them to skill up local people from all backgrounds, and ensure sustainable outcomes for all, within local economies.