The following paragraphs describe very briefly some of the main types of work available in local government. The majority of these occupations are covered in more detail in other AGCAS information booklets — the titles of which are mentioned at the end of each paragraph. Longer explanations are given of three types of work not covered in greater detail elsewhere—Environmental Health, Housing, and Trading Standards and Consumer Protection.
Every local authority has a treasurer's or finance department: many of the larger ones recruit regularly. Graduates undertake a training by block release and experience for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy qualification. A good route if your aim is the more senior posts, e.g. Chief Executive. (Accountancy)
Administrative staff work in every council department, preparing committee papers, clerking meetings, doing project work, writing reports, ensuring the smooth day-to-day running of the department. A few graduates are recruited specifically as administrative trainees; others join as assistants: some qualify (e.g .with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators) or move into other specialisms , e.g. Personnel. (Public Sector Administration)
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running of the department
A postgraduate qualification (Diploma in Archive Administration) is almost essential. Very small numbers are employed; there are few vacancies and career prospects are limited. (Library, Information and Archive Work)
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Computing and Management Services
Some local authorities have good training schemes for trainee programmers. Many authorities run complex systems providing services to a wide range of departments for example to handle rate and rent collection, library issues etc. District authorities often have links to the County Hall computer system. (Computers)
Economists and Employment
A relatively new development is for local authorities to set up Economic Planning or Employment departments often with the aim of stimulating and encouraging business or industry. They are likely to recruit graduates with higher degrees and/or experience, and only in very small numbers. (Opportunities for Economists)
In order to be employed as a school teacher by a local authority you need a teaching qualification—a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) in addition to a degree, or a BEd. Senior administrative or advisory jobs in the education department of a local authority are almost all filled by people with teaching qualifications and experience, though some middle and lower level jobs are held by graduates recruited as administrators. Careers Officers usually need work experience and a Diploma in Careers Guidance. (Teaching in Schools and Colleges in the UK) (Work Related to Education)
More qualified civil engineers work for local authorities than for any other category of employer but during the last few years the recruitment of new graduates has been at a very low level because of public expenditure cuts. Starting salaries and training programmes are usually good especially with larger authorities. (Opportunities for Civil Engineers)
Environmental Health Officers, formerly known as Public Health Inspectors, work at district level. They were originally concerned with the inspection of premises where food was manufactured or sold, but their responsibilities have expanded greatly, and the emphasis is changing from inspection and enforcement to education and planning. EHOs are likely to spend the first hour or two in the morning and the last hour or so in the evening in the office dealing with paper work. The rest of their time will be spent away from their office. Within their area they might deal with the conditions under which food is stored, handled, transported and sold and the contamination of food; pest control - rats, mice, fleas etc; the inspection of housing and drainage systems which fall below modern standards and the approval of schemes for improvement grants; the emission of dust, fumes and other contaminants into the atmosphere; the increasing problem of noise including schemes for insulation of houses near airports and motorways; the control of disease at ports and airports; and under the recent Health and Safety at Work Act they may be involved in inspection and advisory work in offices in much the same way as the Factory Inspectorate deal with these aspects in factories.
The range of work makes it necessary for them to acquire a considerable amount of technical and legal knowledge and to have this at their fingertips when dealing with possible offenders. Although there is usually a preference for those with a background of biology, biochemistry, food science, building, physics, etc, others will be considered.
Although EHOs have a range of statutory powers behind them and must be prepared to use them at times, most disputes can be settled long before there is any question of going to court. A pleasant manner and a liking for constant dealings with people are therefore essential. The EHOs will usually be responsible for making their own decisions on the spot. They may have to seize food and submit it to the Public Analyst's laboratory for inspection, temporarily close down an abattoir, or make a decision whether a house should be pulled down or improved. They therefore will need to have confidence and good judgement. An ability to drive is clearly important. Officers can be called out at night or at weekends when potential hazards arise and from what has been said earlier it will be seen that this is not a job for those who are squeamish about blood, vermin and smells.
Because of the growing complexity of the work some councils have organised their EHOs into specialist groups and there may, therefore, be the possibility at a later stage to take a more detailed interest in one field. Departments vary in size even within cities and towns of similar population. While several district councils have only three EHOs, a few may have as many as eighty. Most departments also have a few technical assistants. These technicians may carry out routine checking work or for instance handle noise measuring equipment. Occasionally graduates are recruited to these posts but career progression is limited at present unless there is the possibility of taking a full professional qualification.
There are a few degree courses which give professional qualifications in environmental health. These BSc sandwich courses are provided at the Universities of Salford, Wales (Cardiff) and Ulster and at Leeds and Thames Polytechnics. The Strathclyde University course gives partial exemption from the professional qualifications, while at Manchester Polytechnic, there is a part-time course for serving EHOs. Graduates from other disciplines may occasionally be seconded by a local authority to take one of these courses but are more likely to take block release courses at a technical college or polytechnic to qualify in three-four years for the Diploma in Environmental Health. Graduates from non-relevant disciplines are likely to experience difficulty in obtaining a suitable placement. Only when the necessary exams have been passed and the right experience gained can one operate as a qualified Environmental Health Officer. The rest of the training will be on the job. Initially trainees may spend time in the department learning about the considerable amount of paper work which has to be processed. Then they will go out and about with qualified EHOs. By the beginning of their third year they will be making visits on their own.
A newly qualified EHO could expect to earn £8979 rising on a scale to £9591 proceeding to £10,638 after a further 21/2 year's appropriate service. The Director of a larger authority could receive over £30,000 pa. There is also some demand for experienced EHOs outside Local Government in the quality control of food manufacture, and in consultancy work. A survey in 1982 indicated that there were 5595 EHOs posts of which 906 were student trainees. At any one time there are vacancies, of course, but of the 299 vacant posts for EHOs, 114 were known to be 'frozen' by the authority, and would therefore not be filled, at least for some time. Similarly, and perhaps more seriously, 173 of the student trainee vacant posts were likewise 'frozen'. The situation is not likely to get any better in the foreseeable future.
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There is no special graduate entry into the Fire Service and few graduates join, but for those who do prospects are good and promotion can be rapid. A Chief Fire Officer can earn as much as a Chief Education Officer or a County Treasurer. High standards of physical fitness are required and shift work is involved. (The Uniformed Services)
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Housing is a service provided by district authorities. Local authorities are the landlords for the vast majority of people in this country who do not own their own homes; the professionals who organise and administer the service are housing managers.
The major activity of any housing department is still the management and maintenance of its council houses, some of them on estates dating back to slum clearance schemes between the wars, others built to meet the growing demand in the post war years. Essentially what was provided was new housing. In recent years the approach to housing provision has changed from a policy of new building often on city outskirts to one of renovation, improvement and modernisation of outworn houses. Authorities now buy up privately owned property in older areas and undertake its modernisation and improvement. In addition it is now possible for tenants, under certain conditions, to buy their council house. These policies have extended the work of housing departments.
The work of a housing department will cover activities such as the following:
a) The administration of housing applications arid of applications for transfers and exchanges. The allocation and letting of properties.
b) Inspection, ordering and checking of routine maintenance items on dwellings and estates usually from an estate office. This will involve considerable visiting of properties to check on defects followed by liaison with the direct labour force or outside contractors who do the actual work.
c) Rent policies and assessments of rents. Rent collection, recovery of arrears, administration of rent rebates and allowances. (In some authorities this is still the responsibility of the Treasurer's Department).
d) Processing of applications from tenants interested in buying their rented council property.
e) Tenant welfare; interviewing in connection with rehousing or tenant problems; liaison with social services department; administration of housing and advice services.
f) Assessment of general housing need in the district and making housing provision for special categories eg old people, single person accommodation.
g) Coordination of housing activities in public and private sectors including housing associations and societies. The administering of improvement grants to private owners and landlords.
The job offers constant contact with the public and in a recent survey graduates working in housing found that one of its main satisfactions lay in feeling that they were helping people who had problems and who needed assistance. They also commented on the freedom they had to make their own decisions and the early responsibility which came their way. But housing is a sensitive area and one where elected members are keen to make their impact and where therefore tact and discretion are important qualities.
The Institute of Housing's Professional Qualification is in three parts. Some polytechnic degrees give full exemption from the examinations, and graduates need only complete the practical experience requirement. There are five full-time postgraduate courses giving full exemptions at Stirling, Heriot-Watt, Salford and Ulster Universities and the LSE. There is also a full-time postgraduate course at Sheffield Polytechnic which gives almost complete exemption. Other degrees for example in Environmental Sciences at Salford and in the Social Sciences, Law and Estate Management elsewhere give partial exemptions. A graduate must have a minimum of six months experience in a housing department prior to sitting Parts I and II of the examinations and 18 months prior to sitting the Final Examination. Courses are undertaken in either local colleges with day release or by correspondence. A list of college and correspondence courses which provide tuition can be obtained from the Institute. The other relevant qualification for Housing is the Associateship of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Housing Management Division.
Ideally a graduate would enter as a trainee and spend time in different divisions of the Department before starting in a substantive post. When resources are limited traineeships are in short supply. The beginner's job at professional level is that of Housing Assistant. There is little forward planning of vacancies in Housing and graduates need to watch for actual vacancies advertised from about March of their final year in the local and national press, Housing, Local Government Chronicle, Municipal Journal, New Society and Opportunities.