Local – Central 8: Development days

Written by Gareth Young on . Posted in Our blog

21st January 2014

As regular readers of our blog will know we have recently embarked on a small mini-series of posts about the relationship between local and central government and how they can be improved.

This week we wanted to talk about learning and development and how central/local work shadowing could be used as a realistic alternative to conferences or expensive training courses. Recently, the Chief Executive in my authority organised an opportunity for members of staff to shadow their equivalents in some private sector organisations that provide services to our council. It was an opportunity to understand the procurement process from the other side of the fence but also to understand how the service delivery differed in the private sector versus the way we did it.

I genuinely felt, and continue to feel, that the insight we would came from that experience would far outweigh any benefits that could be derived from training courses or equivalent learning and development activities.

Which leads me to today’s post; why couldn’t that model of development also work for central and local government? I know that central government has started to ‘get’ this. Recently, we had some Department of Health civil servants come and work alongside us in local government for two weeks. I think they worked in social care policy and therefore frontline social care experience, or at least understanding how it works in local government, was and is crucial to their work.

Surely, this applies across the board.

So why doesn’t it happen? I think there are two reasons: firstly the narrow way that learning and development is viewed in some local authorities and secondly the lack of openness between our two sectors.

Too often learning and development in a local authority is offered as a series of courses in a catalogue or as the opportunity to attend a conference or two. These are nicely structured pieces of development, easy for everyone to quantify and document and thus a simple way for all concerned. Sometimes, I think staff even prefer this; after all managing your own development is quite tricky and a nice pre-organised conference is far easier than trying to sort out shadowing or secondment opportunities.

As an example, CIPFA, the body for accountants in the public sector, which has a well-developed and nuanced development scheme makes it far easier for those attending conferences or training courses to add up the points they need each year to keep their qualification than for those doing other ‘unstructured’ activities such as ‘work shadowing a colleague’ or ‘visiting other departments or organisations’ each of which require more tricky evidencing. This is despite both being recognised as crucial parts of development. 

However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for more experiential learning of this kind; for many officers I think it might just be crucial.

The second issue is one of culture; there just isn’t a culture of development days or temporary work shadowing between the sectors. My guess is that where these are happening they have been developed on the back of personal or professional relationships between the managers involved.

However, were local and central government to start to recognise the value and importance of understanding and knowledge sharing between the sectors this could be one element of a more substantial programme. If we are to accept the premise that central and local government need to work better together then something like regular development days between the sectors surely have to be part of the solution.


What do you think? We welcome feedback on this and all the other posts in this series and would welcome more guest posts to contribute to the debate whether you think we are right and have some ideas to contribute or believe we need to change course totally. Either way please just drop us a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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