June blog: The numbers game

Jon Sutcliffe writes about the importance of data in workforce development and LGA plans for the future.

Jon Sutcliffe photo

We all know the jokes about 90 per cent of statistics being wrong 90 per cent of the time, in fact I laugh at them very often/often/not often (delete as applicable). When handled properly though, good quality data can make a real difference to policy development, so we want to let you know about our future workforce research plans and why we collect the data we do.


The LGA collects workforce data for two main reasons:

  • to provide good quality comparative data and benchmarking opportunities for councils
  • to support national pay negotiations and policy discussions with central Government.

The types of data we collect are increasingly subject to Freedom of Information requests. It always feels better for the sector to have its own sources of shared data to provide a clear, authoritative picture.

Outlines of our three main surveys

The workforce survey and HR benchmarking

The longstanding workforce survey collects two sets of information:

  • a consistent set of core HR indicators such as sickness absence
  • an evolving set of questions on key issues and HR policies ranging from recruitment difficulties to pay and reward systems.

I’m excited to tell you that from this year the set of core indicators will be collected more regularly using the LG Inform system to allow us to develop a “live” HR benchmarking service covering sickness absence, labour turnover, training spend etc.; this will enable us to concentrate on key workforce policy and development issues in the annual survey. But we’ll make sure that all the data will still be summarised in an annual report.

A couple of headlines from this year’s survey include:

  • the average sickness absence rate per FTE employee is 8.8 days
  • 78 per cent of councils have recruitment and retention difficulties.

The chief executives and chief officers survey

This survey was carried out in late 2018 for the first time since 2009 and will be conducted regularly. As well as pay data on individual post-holders, the survey collects information on gender, ethnicity, age and pension scheme membership. A feedback report and information tables will be available online soon. We’re still talking about how often its best to ask you for this information and we may collect pay data annually to provide effective benchmarking but collect demographic data less frequently.

The new survey shows for example that 32 percent of chief executives are women and 40 per cent of first-tier managers.

Local government earnings and demography survey

This survey involves a bulk transfer of stored anonymous data on post-holders. The survey covers around one million post-holders and provides support for pay negotiations as well as benchmarking data. The survey was not carried out during the development of the new pay spine in 2018/19 but we will now establish a new baseline data set. The data includes gender, ethnicity and disability etc., as well as basic and total pay for each post-holder. This makes this survey invaluable for discussing the fundamental characteristics of the local government workforce when developing advice and responses to Government policy.

And there’s more – other surveys

We carry out a number of smaller periodical surveys in support of pay negotiations for some of the other negotiating groups like youth and community workers.

And working with the Regional Employers Organisations, we carry out occasional exercises to collect data on urgent topics; these can cover anything from responses to the changed IR35 regulations to the numbers of EU/EEA nationals in local government employment and need to happen fast to influence national policy.

A picture of local government

But you know the best thing about off of these surveys is that they paint a picture. A picture of the diversity of jobs and workplaces and people we need in our sector to support our communities to thrive.

The public sector and councils have undergone many changes in the past few years but by having this insight into our workforce we can respond appropriately to the changing nature of the world we work in and the challenges we face locally and nationally. See the results of our different surveys.

So we’d like to thank all councils who respond to our surveys and ask everyone to do their best to take part, starting with completing the earnings and demography survey which we sent to every council’s HR department recently. Thank you.

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