Solace: Marking 50 years in local government

By Graeme McDonald | 29 January 2024
  • Graeme McDonald

Half a century ago, local government was on the cusp of the largest reorganisation in its history. More than 500 councils would soon disappear as the sector entered a new era shaped by a decade of introspection, a royal commission, numerous committees and inquiry reports and the lessons of the reorganisation of London.

Through much contest and debate there emerged a new model for local government, more corporate in nature, a settled approach to finance and a renewed clarity about what a council is for.

Fifty years later demand for what councils can do has never been greater, while their ability to respond is hamstrung by under-investment.

Fifty years later, councils struggle to recruit talent into important services because pay and conditions cannot keep pace with the local supermarket.

Fifty years later, one area of near unanimity is that the financial system is broken.

It was also 50 years ago this month that The MJ first reported all the UK’s council chief executives had been invited to join a new organisation – the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace). Over the subsequent fifty years much has changed – both for the sector and Solace.

At Solace, we have members from apprentices upwards – fewer than a third of our members are in the top job – while we have a team of 50 and support individuals and councils with training, recruitment, project delivery and learning programmes at every stage of a local government career. Despite the challenges it is a career that remains as inspiring and rewarding as ever.

And the finance debate of recent weeks has started to change the mood, highlighting the need for greater cross-sector working and building a consensus on the need for a fresh start.

With all the change that has happened over 50 years it feels like the time is right for another reset – a consensus about local government’s role, its funding, and how it can improve; not just to resolve the weaknesses of today, but to keep up with the expectations of tomorrow.

Graeme McDonald is managing director of Solace

X – @Solace_UK

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Finance Solace Recruitment Council staff