Local councils have made major changes in how and where their staff work but need to build on their experience of the pandemic
Councils need to develop their strategic approaches in order to plan for the longer term
The Well-being of Future Generations Act’s sustainable development principle should be implemented by councils when planning for the future.
All councils went through a period of rapid change in how and where their staff worked during the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift was characterised by a mass move to remote working, which happened virtually overnight. We recently carried out work on asset management and workforce planning on all 22 councils in Wales. We found that most councils were working through what their ‘new normal’ should look like as staff tended to currently work partly remotely, at council offices or out in the community.
Our report also found that councils needed to further develop their thinking so that they could plan and deliver for the longer term, balancing recruiting and retaining staff while providing efficient and effective services to the public. However, we highlighted weaknesses in their arrangements that could hamper their ability to do this. For example, we found that councils needed to develop well-defined strategies, along with supporting service planning arrangements and effective monitoring arrangements. This will allow them to achieve flexible working arrangements and strong service delivery while making best use of their buildings and other assets.
We also found that councils were not always utilising the data available to help them manage the present or plan for the future. Some councils also didn’t have a good understanding of the current workforce risks and those that did, could improve their understanding of the medium and longer-term challenges that are likely to impact them. Benchmarking appeared to be seldom undertaken, meaning councils are not able to compare and really understand the extent to which they are achieving value for money. More generally, there are perhaps more opportunities for them to learn from each other as they develop new ways of working.
As they look ahead and seek to develop their approaches, councils will need to use the sustainable development principle to help them. However, our report found that councils do not appear to fully recognise the relevance of the sustainable development principle to the design and delivery of assets and workforce. For this reason, many of our recommendations across the 22 councils focused on ensuring they use the sustainable development principle to help them plan and deliver.
The pandemic has brought about accelerated change for local councils, including in terms of how and where their workforce is working. To ensure they are delivering in a modern and sustainable way, councils need to recognise how they can use the sustainable development principle to help them plan and deliver their approaches to workforce and assets. As part of this, they really need to understand the risks ahead and work with each other and their partners to manage them.