Developing the leaders of the future

The LGA’s programme to find the brightest officers got off to a good start and will continue in the autumn.

The Local Government Challenge is a unique officer development programme and competition, which forms part of the LGA’s leadership offer to councils.

Contestants tackle five real-life challenges hosted by councils across the country, providing leadership development for the officers and consultancy and fresh ideas for the councils.

The programme is on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, but two challenges took place ahead of the lockdown.

In February, 10 officers gathered at Surrey County Council for the first LG Challenge of 2020, which focused on climate change.

Katie Sargent, Surrey’s Environment Commissioning Group Manager, tasked the contestants with considering how the council can help mitigate the effects of climate change linked to land use and consumer habits, as part of its work to ensure Surrey is carbon neutral by 2050.

Kent County Council’s Zoe Galvin stepped up to lead Team Resilience and Calderdale Council’s Joe Kinsella captained Team Trailblazers. With Galvin hailing from the same council as last year’s winner, and Kinsella being persuaded to apply by his chief executive, expectations were high.

The LG Challenge is an intense programme. The contestants, meeting for the first time, had only a short team session to plan and strategise before being whisked off to visit local businesses, meet a wide range of experts and talk to members and officers about how the council is recognising the concerns residents have about climate change. They also discussed the council’s ambition that ‘residents live in clean, safe and green communities, where people and organisations embrace their environmental responsibilities’.

Working late into the night, the teams pulled together their ideas before delivering presentations the next day. The judges – who included Surrey’s Chief Executive Joanna Killian, Deputy Leader Cllr Colin Kemp, and Katie Sargent – declared Trailblazers the winners. Both presentations had impressed, but the strong pitch and more cohesive nature of Trailblazer’s approach made all the difference.

The second challenge, at Pembrokeshire County Council, marked an exciting milestone – the first challenge to be hosted in Wales and the most westerly point to which the programme has travelled.

Steven Richards-Downes, Acting Director of Children and Schools, and Rob Hillier, 14-19 Schools Adviser, revealed the task: how can the council support post-16 learners to ensure they are on the right course in the right place and help achieve the council’s vision that every learner achieves more than they thought possible?

Emma Shepherd, from Croydon Council, captained this time for Trailblazers, with her background in training and experience as a school governor. Jack Kennedy, from Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, and previously the Department for Education, captained Resilience. 

Both teams quickly determined a plan of action on this ‘number one priority’ for Pembrokeshire and a service area new to the rest of the contestants, before travelling across the rural authority to visit education settings and meet students, headteachers and council officers.

After very different approaches to the presentations, the judges – including Leader Cllr David Simpson, Education Cabinet Member Cllr Guy Woodham and Cllr Neil Prior, Transformation and IT Cabinet Member – awarded the win to Resilience for its slick presentation and strong business case outlining its innovative ‘Pembr’ app.

Leaving the series tied at 1-1, we are taking a break because of COVID-19 and looking forward to re-starting in the autumn.

For more information about Local Government Challenge, please visit, or email to register your interest for LG Challenge 2021.


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