Is 50 the new 60?
Local councils are currently shedding jobs at a rate unheard of in the last twenty years or so. This has a number of unintended consequences.
Not least of which is illustrated by an e-mail I received last week.
As part of the current restructure today I need to announce that xxx will be retiring as the head of xxx. I am sure you will want to join with me in wishing him well and congratulating him on his 20/30/35 years service to local government and in particular xxx council.
A replacement will be found either internally, as part of the restructure or externally.
This was the third e-mail of this type that I have received this month and doubtless there will be more to come. All of those who are leaving are heads of service with lots of experience of local government. All are over 50 but, I think, well before standard retirement age (I am way too polite to ask them how old they actually are). Certainly, there was no hint of them preparing for retirement in advance of the restructure taking place.
So why does this matter?
I’m pretty sure there are voices within the council who are seeing this change as the clearing out of space for younger, and dare I say, more dynamic managers to take over. However, there are a number of concerns I have about this sudden rush to clear out the over 50s.
Firstly, this is not a cheap way of moving on. The local government pension scheme can barely cope with staff retiring at the age of 60 let alone 55; especially for managers who are at a fairly senior level and therefore ready to earn a substantial final salary payment. However, this is a small point.
Secondly, and much more importantly, we are in the process of getting rid of an awful lot of institutional knowledge. These staff, be they dynamic or not, know an awful lot about their areas of work and usually have been in the authority long enough that they know where the proverbial bodies are buried. Who else will be able to say to the young whipper-snapper; ‘be careful about that, we tried it five years ago and this what went wrong’. And who will be able to use decades of experience to navigate an important policy decision through the council?
Like it or not, experience is not something to ignore and as councils we seem to be getting rid of a lot of it fairly quickly.
What will replace it? There will be some internal promotions but I think a lot of councils are looking for bright new talent to come from outside the organisation; either from other councils or from the private sector. However, will there be enough talent available if collectively we’ve pensioned off a lot of senior managers? And, will a reliance on people from outside the organisation lead to a year or two where we all collectively struggle to find our feet?
I can understand why the senior managers are comfortable taking their pensions early. Many will be back on a temporary or contract basis and others will enjoy their retirement but I do worry for local government as a whole which has possibly just lost all the experience and knowledge that 30 years in local government builds up.
I don’t think we value experience and built up knowledge enough. The next few years will certainly test my theory.