As someone who once went through the programme I thought I’d mark this occasion with a few thoughts about the NGDP’s past and how it might have a future.
The NGDP was established, as I understand it, to provide a route into local government that was attractive to the best graduates. It would give the participants a broad experience of local government and an academic qualification that was both attractive to employers and designed to set them up well for a long career. It was meant to be a competitor to the gold-star quality Civil Service Fast Stream and in that spirit the bolder members of the NGDP team would often remark that they wanted to see a graduate of the scheme as a Local Government Chief Executive within ten years.
Graduates would spend two years working for a single local authority, using doing four six month placements in different teams, whilst also completing a Post Graduate Diploma in Local Government Management at the prestigious Warwick Business School.
So what went right?
- The scheme slowly but surely attracted some extremely high quality graduates, many of whom might otherwise have passed local government by. Graduates of the scheme are still littered through local government and the rest of the public sector and doing good work.
- The Post Graduate Diploma was excellent, led by some of the highest quality lecturers and special guests from local government and the private sector.
- Many councils started to really value the ability of the graduates to work in complex projects with relatively little lead in which in turn tended to give the graduates a good experience. This was not always the case where some authorities sent their graduates off to placements where they did filing but generally most of the councils quickly ‘got it’
- The accommodation at Warwick Business School was also excellent!
But what went wrong?
- It was expensive (although not really). Local authorities paid for the graduate and towards the end increasingly for the scheme as well. This might have seemed like a lot but even with the cost of salary and the scheme each graduate probably only cost the organisation as much as an average team leader. Expensive? A little? Outrageous? Not really
- However, unlike in the civil service, many of the graduates left their organisation soon after leaving the scheme. After all, up and coming bright graduates probably don’t want to spend too long in one organisation. Local Government was still benefitting but the individual council might not have.
- The scheme developed managers and people with generic skills. In the civil service this works but in local government there is a need for front line skills and the graduate scheme could never provide social workers, planners, lawyers or any number of other frontline staff that are so important for local government.
- The scheme was meant to provide networking, specific local government (non academic) training and other residential activities for the graduates. I’m sure these varied but in my experience these were an absolute bust.
- The Government stopped providing funding for the scheme, thus passing the costs onto local governments who were already looking at cutting costs.
Despite the flaws the scheme was great and, for this blogger, provided an opportunity to get a really good sling shot into my local government career. Without it, I might not have joined and without the qualification and experience I might not have achieved what I have so far.
So what next?
If the scheme is to continue to be a success four things could happen:
- Local government need to commit to the graduate scheme collectively. If all councils were ‘in’ then even if there was some subsequent churn, you would be able to guarantee that the upfront investment would lead to returns.
- A solution needs to be found that will provide some educational rigour to those who join the scheme. It doesn’t need to be a formal academic qualification but there needs to be something that develops the potential applicants and also attracts them to join.
- There needs to be some better advertising of the scheme and a better job done of attracting graduates into the NGDP and local government in general.
- The graduate scheme needs to link up better with other schemes designed to bring ‘professions’ into local government.
This post should not be taken as one of those ‘graduates are better than everyone else’ pieces. Local government needs many different types of people to join but as a graduate who benefitted from the NGDP I’d like to see it continue in one form or another.