Management of frontline services in local government has changed dramatically over the last decade in terms of scope, complexity and span of control – has this been truly recognised in organisational status, by professional institutes or by training providers?
APSE recently completed a review of the skills required for 21st century parks management for MHCLG’s Parks Action Group and what became obvious almost immediately was that austerity has reshaped the competency framework requirements for such roles at a rapid rate. Traditional parks management skills requirements could have been identified on one flower with seven petals with each petal a skill, fast forward a decade and they now require five flowers with the same array of petals.
Whilst efficiency and effectiveness have always been required, the need for enhanced capabilities around engaging citizens and encouraging volunteers to form friends of parks groups, in order to offset some of the void left behind by having fewer direct resources to deploy, are now indirect approaches to delivering the same with less.
Managing festivals and events to raise revenue, together with bid writing and funding applications have expanded remits to a new level but with the average parks service budget in England now made up by around 50% of self-financing income, then it has been a case of learning as you go.
It’s not uncommon to hear of individuals who used to be part of a significantly sized team to now be the team on their own. As one individual put it when asked about the breadth of their role it can be from dealing with horses, to leases, to TUPE, in a given week. Those who set out on a career in horticulture concerned about issues such as enhancing biodiversity are now more aligned to business management.
Formal training provision has struggled to keep up with the pace of change with many struggling to find courses of the correct content to send staff on. The professional institutes are also struggling to play catch up within their specialist recognition pathways, to accommodate those with high level generalist management competency.
Surely even the most broadly reflective employment specifications must be creaking to try and contain these enhanced roles and remits? If austerity is coming to an end then maybe it is time that some of those weary warriors who have held frontline services together over the past decade got some reward and recognition for doing so.