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The ‘environment’ for interim demand? Interim management trends in 2023

by Kathryn Reed


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As a specialist recruiter of interims within the public realm I spend my working life networking with planning, highways, communities, and public realm experts, and working closely with local authority leaders   to understand their challenges and deliver talent solutions. Within these conversations I am seeing a number of trends emerging that are highlighting skill gaps within many councils. Delivering on climate pledges and navigating uncertainty around proposed legislation changes in waste and planning services will be crucial for local authority leaders in the next 12-18 months. With a lack of clarity on funding and local government budgets at breaking point, it will be difficult to make long-term hiring decisions to help meet these challenges head on, and I anticipate there will be an increasing demand for specialist skill sets in an already ‘candidate-short’ market. Local authorities need to be proactive and work in partnership with recruitment agencies to develop talent pools that can help them hire specialist skillsets when needed and get the best out of those interims to truly demonstrate value for money. 

The forthcoming Environment Act sets out the legal framework for significant reforms to local authority waste and recycling services, as well as creating new statutory duties and legally binding targets for environmental protection. Although the Act is unlikely to become law in 2023, local authorities need to begin preparing for the introduction of a deposit return scheme and changes to recycling collection and the frequency of food waste collection that will necessitate different vehicle specifications and new waste infrastructure. I am already seeing a high demand for strategic interim managers who can review TOMs, as well as operationally strong Heads of Service, Project Managers and Subject Matter Experts with experience of route optimisation, fleet replacement, and technology such as in-cab systems. The changes are inevitable, but uncertainty about when they will become law means councils are needing to think ahead to anticipate where they need more capacity and capability. 

A continued focus on sustainability and climate change will extend to all services within Environments and Growth this year, creating further demand for flexible resource and specialist skills. Many councils have declared a climate emergency and pledged to become net- zero by 2030, a commitment that requires millions of pounds worth of investment over the next seven years. Getting this right is non-negotiable. To successfully bid for funding, deliver major capital programmes and meet environmental objectives, local authorities will need interims with subject matter expertise around transport infrastructure, active travel and renewable energy, specialist programme skills, and experience of navigating central government and working in partnership with the private sector. 

At the end of last year, Michael Gove announced proposed changes to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that will amount to a major revision of national planning policy, strengthening the green belt and making housing targets advisory rather than mandatory. The Environment Act will also impact on planning services. New development will be required to deliver a ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’, increasing the levels of biodiversity on a site by 10%. This will be difficult to determine, given the existing shortage of ecologists in local government, with few authorities having access to their own in-house talent. Recruitment and retention of permanent planners also remains a challenge: last year, an LGA Workforce survey highlighted that “more than half of county, district and single tier respondents said they are experiencing difficulties recruiting planning officers and 36 per cent were having problems retaining them.” This year, as planning becomes more complex and permanent recruitment problematic, local authorities will need access to experienced senior planners, with experience of both planning policy and development management, who can lead multi-disciplinary teams and provide strong leadership, challenge and assurance for time limited periods. 

Despite budget pressures, I believe there will be an increasing demand for interims this year. The Environment Act, possible planning reforms,  tight deadlines on Levelling Up funding and net zero commitments mean that local authorities will need subject matter experts with specific skills and experience, whether it’s highways and transport experts advising on the delivery of infrastructure projects, waste interims leading fleet procurement, or Interim Directors of Planning working on difficult Local Plans. Creating the right ‘environment’ for these interims and subject matter experts to add best value is critical. By working in partnership with expert recruiters who have a deep understanding of their candidates will help authorities address these challenges and tap into the skill sets that are often hard to find. 

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