Preparing tomorrow’s leaders

By Richard Wills | 23 January 2019

Breckland Training Service’s Local Authority Challenge had visited seven regions by the end of 2017/18, supporting 140 different public-sector organisations, and helped to develop 840 of our sector’s employees. But what are people getting out of it? What are their main learning outcomes and what skills gaps is the challenge helping us to identify?

The challenge puts an organisation’s senior managers of tomorrow into a real-life simulation, which sees them promoted to become a unitary authority’s executive management team for the day. They have to sort the council’s finances out, communicate with the authority’s political leaders, build partnerships with other organisations and keep their ever-growing customer base engaged and fully supported. The challenge therefore gives them a taste of what life at the top is like and it ignites their ambition to continue their personal development and remain within the sector.

Since launching the Local Authority Challenge in 2012, one key strength that all teams demonstrate has remained consistent; the ability to instantly problem solve and think operationally. But this is no surprise.

All of those who attend are already among their council’s rising stars when it comes to operational delivery; that is why they have been picked to represent their authority at a regional event.

The teams are also brilliant at being creative; re-shaping services in different ways and thinking outside of the box. They never allow any thoughts to creep in, such as ‘How would my boss deal with this?’ They are always willing to try something new. Customer service is also an area of strength for most teams. They get it – when it comes to working with a customer, they are polite and driven to identify solutions.

The biggest area of development, however, is learning to think strategically. One of the traps we set teams is to get them so involved within the day-to-day delivery of their fictional council that they take an eye off where they should be heading in the long-term.

Political awareness is another huge area for development within the teams. While they enjoy building rapport with their political leader for the day, team members are often afraid to ‘speak truth to power’ to her/him. They try to hide bad news, forget to mention poor performance and, at times, attempt to pull the wool over the leader’s eyes when it comes to finances.

Speaking of money management, our teams are also challenged to balance their yearly budgets, find big savings, keep reserves stocked and to plan future savings. Some do this by thinking traditionally and will look at services that could be cut. They also deliver fewer bin collections, raise local taxes, close libraries and grit fewer roads.

Others, however, look to create innovative partnerships. They try to think commercially by creating income generation opportunities or by getting a grip on contract management. Either way, it’s impressive to see our sector’s future leaders understanding the financial challenges we face.

Overall, we’re proud to report that the future of local government and the wider public sector is in very safe hands.

Richard Wills is the managing director of Breckland Training Services, a local authority-owned training and development service

Interested in attending a future Local Authority Challenge?

The Challenge is open to teams of six people from any area of the public sector. The delegates work as a team, with both neighbouring councils and partner organisations, to deliver a new strategy for their council. They have to choose which areas to prioritise, deal with politically sensitive issues and still keep their focus on how to give the public the best services with limited resources.

There are currently eight regional competitions across England each year in: the West Midlands, the South West, North East, East, London, the East Midlands, the South East and soon, the North West. We work in close partnership with each regional employer’s organisation to deliver the challenge. These are: West Midlands Employers, South West Councils, NEREO, EELGA, East Midlands Councils, SEEMP, North West Employers and the Local Government Association.

To find out more about the challenge and to discover when it is coming to your region, visit

The next event in the South East is on 7 March

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