Local Government: at the forefront of supporting our communities

Find out how Ben Mitchell has made a social impact on some seriously challenging issues whilst working on the National Graduate Development Programme. 

people wondering around a busy town centre in black and white

Can you introduce yourself?

Hi, my name’s Ben and I graduated from the University of Reading in 2018, where I studied Human and Physical Geography. In my final year at Reading, I applied for a number of graduate schemes and was successfully recruited onto the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), run by the Local Government Association.

Can you tell us more about what you have done so far and what you’ve achieved?

I took part in the scheme for two years at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council where I completed four placements across the scheme within Housing Services, and Regeneration and Environment. My other projects focused on emergency incidents where I was seconded onto teams that led the Council’s response to the regional flooding incidents in November 2019, and more recently, our response to Coronavirus.

My third placement focused on three policy reviews in the Council’s Licensing service, including a review of the Taxi Licensing policy. Rotherham Council was placed under Government control in 2015, when serious issues regarding child sexual exploitation were uncovered. Taxi licensing was directly connected to these failings and a full policy review was carried out in 2015 by Commissioner, Dame Mary Ney. To lead the subsequent review of the policy, reflecting on the substantial improvements to the service, it’s position as a leading regulatory body, and to implement changes to further the safety of our residents was a large responsibility and one that gave me a large variety of skills that I will be able to take forward into my future career.

Tell us what the main purpose of your current role is?

My time on the scheme ended in September 2020, when I was offered a permanent role in Rotherham as a Policy, Initiatives and Improvement Officer. The purpose of my new role is to continually review research and best practice, to understand how Council services can be delivered in a more efficient way, benefiting our residents, whilst also helping to mitigate an increasingly difficult financial position. I am also responsible for project management of change programmes within the directorate, alongside facilitating reviews of various policies which focus on regeneration and environmental issues.

 How does your role make a difference to others?

One of the reasons I first joined the NGDP was the idea that local government has a day-to-day impact on the lives of residents. I still strongly believe that Councils, as a stakeholder of our communities, are in the best position to improve the outcomes of people’s lives every day. When tough times fall upon us, it is always Councils that residents turn to for advice and support.

As this pandemic continues to highlight the inequalities within our society, Council staff have been on the frontline delivering vital services that were set up in a matter of days. As well as continuing the delivery of essential services such as social care, Councils have set up financial support schemes, opened foodbanks and created supported schemes harnessing volunteers and community assets to protect our most vulnerable residents. This has showed the dedication of colleagues across the sector and reiterated the values of public service that we all work towards.

However, the work of local government often goes unnoticed and it is more important than ever that Councils recruit talented and dedicated people to ensure that we can continue to operate and support the most vulnerable in society. Councils have faced a decade of funding reductions and this has been exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19, meaning that the sector faces a £4 billion funding gap next year, simply to keep services running at today’s levels.

Although that is a stark reality, it offers opportunity to think creatively and improve services by harnessing new ways of working and doing things differently. This will have a direct impact on the lives of people across the country, improving the services that they access daily or at times of real need.