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Local Government Administrator

Local Government Administration

Local Government Administrator

Tell me about it
Local government officers are part of a huge workforce of around 2.5 million people employed by a network of London Boroughs, unitary authorities and county and district councils. They are responsible for ensuring that appropriate services are delivered locally and that councillors’ decisions and government directives are implemented. The work can cover a variety of services, ranging from education, environmental protection and leisure to social services, trading standards and waste collection.

Working alongside specialist staff - including architects, lawyers, social workers, teachers and town planners - officers organise and maintain systems and procedures in order to run services and develop policies in line with local political priorities and government guidelines. They may write reports, implement initiatives, undertake surveys and present findings to elected councillors.

Below the level of research and policy-making, administrative work normally includes managing staff, servicing committees (preparing agendas and minutes of meetings), dealing with enquiries from members of the public and providing advice, storing and retrieving information, processing statistics, dealing with finance and applying what can sometimes be complex rules and regulations.

The emphasis of administrative work in local government has changed considerably in recent years. For example, many services – such as school meals, refuse collection and leisure centres – may now be contracted out to the private sector. Administrators dealing with such issues can be responsible for drawing up service specifications, managing relationships with contractors and monitoring their performance to make sure it is of the right quality and provides value for money.

Specific job titles vary enormously but might include best value officer, external funding officer, policy officer or democratic services officer.

Entry level
Although there are no specific entry requirements, there are several different entry and progression routes. You could, for example, join as a clerical or administrative assistant and work your way up to officer level by achieving a relevant National or Scottish Vocational Qualification (NVQ/SVQ). At the other end of the spectrum, you could take a degree in any subject and apply for the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), which is specifically designed to create a new generation of managers with the ability to take on senior roles. Though recruited at a national level, you would join a local authority and would spend two years there, taking on strategic project work, obtaining a postgraduate management qualification and participating in short-term placements with other public and private sector partners.

Relevant experience in the private sector or with other public sector organisations can often be an advantage.

Making the grade
As a new administrator, you would be given induction training in the role of your authority and the work of your specific department, in addition to extensive on-the-job training in your particular duties. Most local authorities are firmly committed to training, so release for study for specific qualifications as well as actual job training is not unusual. You might be encouraged, for example, to work towards the professional qualifications of the Institute of Administrative Management or the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Personal qualities
Local government officers need excellent written and spoken communication skills. You might have to explain complex issues to help councillors or the general public understand the implications of decisions and changes in legislation.

You should also be methodical, with good organisational skills and the ability to pay close attention to detail. You must be able to plan and prioritise your work, to identify key points when confronted with vast amounts of information and to respect confidentiality.

You would have to be prepared to work with elected councillors from all political parties and help to implement their policies, whether or not you personally agree with the decisions taken. Good number skills would be useful in some types of administrative work, especially when producing statistical reports or setting budgets.

Looking ahead
At a time of severe public service cuts, estimated job losses in local government during 2011 range from 73,000 (CIPFA) to 140,000 (Local Government Association) or 200,000 (GMB Union). Whatever the final figure turns out to be, there is a clear message that 2011 is not the best year to be starting a career as a local government officer. Where vacancies occur, competition is certain to be intense.

Many traditional local government services have been privatised or contracted out in recent years, leading to increased opportunities for switching between the public and private sectors. One growth area, once you have gained sufficient experience, is to set up your own consultancy specialising in areas such as drawing up service specifications, negotiating contracts and monitoring contractor performance.

Alternative suggestions
You might also consider training as a civil servant, company secretary, health service manager or human resources manager.

Take-home pay
As a graduate recruit to the NGDP, you would receive a starting salary of £22,958, plus London weighting if applicable. If you start as an administrative assistant, you would be paid on a scale ranging from around £16,000 to £20,000. This could rise with experience to £30,000 to £40,000. Your entry point would depend on such factors as the grade of the job and your level of responsibility.

Local government administrators usually work between 35 and 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. The work is office-based but may involve some outside visits.
Several local authorities have introduced extremely flexible working patterns, including part-time working, job sharing, term-time working (where you can take additional unpaid leave during school holidays) and annual hours contracts (where the number of hours worked is calculated over the whole year and you work more hours at particularly busy times).

Sources of information
Local Government Talent:  
Institute of Administrative Management:
National Graduate Development Programme:
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities:
Welsh Local Government Association:




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