There are really no typical career paths in local government. Local Authorities employ people to do almost every type of job from accounting to zoo-keeping. Some of these careers will commonly be found also in the private sector or in the nationalized industries — examples are accountants, civil engineers, solicitors, architects, work study officers. Others are exclusively or predominantly found in the local authority sector, such as social workers, fire officers, environmental health officers, and trading standards officers. Even within administration, it is difficult to describe a normal career pattern. However, in all cases there are distinctive features about work in this context which might be useful to spell out.
1. Local authorities are political units whose political direction may change after an election and whose staff have to accept and live with the fact. People with strong political views of their own might find this situation difficult, so it may be unwise to join a local authority unless you can live with the consequences of the democratic process.
2. Some staff in local government will have considerable contact with their community, but this depends on the type of work they undertake. At senior levels there is contact with elected members as well. For many people the idea of service can be one of the attractions of the job, but it is worth remembering that the public can be critical and that not everyone will see the activities of their local authority as essentially benevolent. There may be some hostility to cope with.
3. Local authorities are very big employers and a medium sized one may employ more than 20,000 people - refuse collectors, teachers, sewage workers, clerks, gardeners - and have a disposable income equivalent to the turnover of a large manufacturing company. They have no means of demonstrating their profitability but they must show that they are cost efficient.
4. Local authorities are very varied - an urban authority differs from a rural one and county councils and regions differ from districts. Which you work for is largely a matter of taste and you may well, during your career, want to gain broad experience.
5. Local authorities are largely organised on the basis of professional departments. The great majority of entrants are therefore expected to acquire a professional qualification. If they do not already have such a qualification they will normally be encouraged to acquire one on a part-time basis in their early years of service. Most authorities support financially those who want to obtain such qualifications, especially by block or day release courses.
6. There has recently been considerable growth in voluntary effort in relation to public services, especially welfare services, and in many fields there are often volunteers working alongside the authorities' own staff. There are examples of work being allocated, by agreements, to an outside agency, while 'privatisation' (the transfer of activities to a private concern) has occurred in sections of some authorities.
7. Promotion in local government is usually obtained by moving from one authority to another, though in the larger authorities there may be more opportunities for internal promotion. You would not normally expect to stay in one place throughout your career and there is freedom, within the limits of opportunities available, to choose when and where to move.
8. The senior jobs in any department are basically administrative or managerial so that though you begin as a specialist lawyer, accountant, planner or social worker you will need increasingly to become involved in the motivation of people and the management of resources.
Salaries in local government at chief officer level are related to population. At present, chief executives' salaries can be over £30,000 depending upon the size of authority, although salaries at this level show considerable local variation. Chief officers of departments are on a lower scale. Graduates/diplomates starting their career would normally do so on the Administrative and Professional scale. These and the general conditions of work are negotiated, nationally, although each authority may have some leeway in the way the scales are applied. There is also a contributory pension scheme, to which all employees must belong, with the pension rights being transferable between authorities.