SUMMARY & CONTEXT
At the time of collecting data, February 2022, local authorities were dealing with Covid restrictions and pandemic-recovery responses. Wider national (Prime Ministerial changes), geopolitical issues (such as the Ukrainian war) and inflationary and cost of living increases had yet to occur.
A total of 633 responses were collected, and after removing incomplete and test responses a total of 353 responses were suitable for analysis, giving a 56% completion rate.
Breakdown of respondents
The respondents were spread across England. Of those, 197 respondents reported being involved in recruitment at their organisation and 274 were involved in workforce planning; these groups were not mutually exclusive.
Manual examination of the Local Authorities that respondents revealed 207 different authorities, after removing duplicates. Differing naming conventions may mean this figure isn’t entirely accurate but does demonstrate a wide range of authorities were represented.
In terms of over-representation, only 4 councils had more than 5 respondents represented on the survey: Cornwall Council (7), Derby City Council (6), Dorset Council (7), and London Borough of Havering (9).
Looking at the specialism of those who responded 193 identified as “Planning and Policy” specialists, 91 as specialising in “Architecture, Urban Design & Masterplanning” and 64 focused on “Leadership and Management”. “Digital and Data” specialists had the least representation with only 10 respondents.
The analysis below is taken from the results of the survey's quantifiable answers and has been conducted by Nightingale Design Research.
TEAM SIZE & DIVERSITY
There was a wide range of team sizes represented in the survey with nearly 50 reporting small teams of five or less and a similar number with teams of over 30 people. This variability is probably due to the interpretation of what a team means with some talking about directorates and others about small focused teams.
Despite mixed responses to how representative their team was of the wider community, a majority of respondents (63%) agree or strongly agree that many team members come from similar backgrounds. This suggests diversity is an issue for many teams.
CULTURE & ENGAGEMENT
When asked about their personal experience, the majority of participants agreed or strongly agreed that they are treated fairly, would like to still work with their current employer in two years' time and that those they report to have the skills and training needed to support them. However, opinion was more divided when discussing having the systems and tools needed to do their job well and work-life balance. Being paid appropriately for their work received the least responses with only 43% agreeing or strongly agreeing with that statement.
Overall job satisfaction was generally neutral with few very satisfied or very unsatisfied with their job. The Mean response was 6.23 with a standard deviation of 2.12. This compares poorly to similar measures taken across the government or the broader workforce which tend to report general engagement and work satisfaction at 7-8 out of ten. Note these sources used slightly different measures, so the comparison is indicative, not conclusive.
DELIVERY & INNOVATION
The majority (63%) agreed that siloed working had a negative effect on their ability to work productively, as well 58% stated they didn't have the support or capacity to experiment and trial new ways of working.
In terms of delivering on minimum statutory responsibilities, the near 70% agree/strongly agree seems positive, but the strength of the statements means that even 30% not agreeing is potentially worrying. It suggests nearly a third of teams our struggling to meet their statutory requirements.
When asked about which specific skills their team needs but doesn’t currently have enough, it becomes clear that there is a wide range of skills in demand. The figures in this table represent the percentage of respondents who identified they currently have not got enough of these skills as a proportion of those who stated their team needs them. Even the least in-demand skills (Leadership and Management) were identified as insufficient in over 30% of teams that need them.
Internal recruitment and public job postings are by far the most common approaches for advertising job vacancies but over a third of vacancies reported also used a recruitment agency. Other approaches mentioned included approaching personal contacts, using social media and using Public Practice.
Turnaround for new starts was generally reasonable with the vast majority taking between 2 and 6 months from when the budget was first signed off to a new staff member starting.
Generally, the number of vacant posts on the teams is low, but ten respondents reported more than 10 vacant posts, which is likely to significantly impact performance.
Looking at the number of roles that respondents intend to recruit for in the next 12 months we can see Policy & Planning, and to a lesser extent “Property Development & Capital Delivery” are likely to be the most recruited for roles in the next 12 months. With a mean 1.58 and 0.84 roles likely to be advertised per survey respondent.
Interestingly the skills which are identified above as most needed are some of those for which the least number of new roles are planned for: e.g “Digital & Data”, “Ecology & Biodiversity” and “Environmental Sustainability”. This suggests that recruitment plans are likely to reinforce the current strengths and weaknesses of local authority teams rather than adapting to fulfil skill shortages.
There is a very strong correlation between the number of vacancies reported and the intention to recruit, (Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, r =0.93).
In terms of specific recruitment issues faced in the last year, recruitment delays, retention and lack of funder have each affected nearly half respondents. However, difficulty attracting qualified and skilled candidates is overwhelmingly the most common issue, being faced by nearly 80% of respondents.
Other issues listed further emphasise the issue of retention and attracting suitably skilled staff and three mention problems associated with an ageing workforce.
At the end of the survey respondents were asked if they had any other comments. We received 106 responses to this question. These comments were analysed using a Grounded Theory approach, which consisted of generating codes to extract the core meaning from the comments, gathering codes into key themes and generating an overarching theory to encapsulate the themes.
Systematic and structural issues (29 comments)
The most common theme was the systematic and structural issues that exist at both local authority and national levels. Locally inflexible pay structures and siloed working were often mentioned. Nationally the issues revolved more around the changing national policy without thought or planning for how it will impact local authorities. A prime example of this is the introduction of many ecology-focused planning policies in recent years without any planning for the increased need for ecologists at local authorities who are now needed to enforce them.
- “I don't think management understands the changes coming in relation to the Env Act and the additional resources that we are going to need.”
- “My experience is that there are teams that have some amazing talent within them, but siloed working prevents these skills and teams learning being shared across the organisation”
- “Public bodies are all trying to recruit to the same type of posts to deliver an ever-growing national infrastructure programme. As the energy and climate agenda gain traction, this will increase further.”
Funding and budget issues (25 comments)
Many comments discussed the direct impact of budget cuts, recruitment freezes and low application fees having a severe impact on their team’s ability to operate. There is a general feeling that planning and placemaking teams are often where councils look to cut budgets, so wider issues like spiralling social care costs disproportionately affect these teams' budgets.
- “budgetary restraint in local authorities will always be a determining factor where we have single points of specialism (failure?) until the crippling social care funding is resolved by central government. we are being crippled into failure...”
- “Every authority is under-resourced. Planning application fees need to be tripled. Or at least doubled. Enforcement appeals need to urgently have fees imposed .”
- “The expectations of what a development management team has significantly gone up over the last five years, but resources have gone now. “
Impact of massive workload (21 comments)
Many respondents shared the impact of the increased workload on the team and themselves. Some very personal comments reveal the impact of an unsustainable high workload including stress, health issues, unpaid overtime, poor staff morale and difficulty retaining staff. The more the workload increases, the fewer people leave, and those left have an even higher workload again.
- “Crippling workloads are driving good planners away before we can fill the existing/previous vacancies. I don't think it would matter how much you paid them, people carry the guilt of not meeting targets even if managers don't enforce them, the abuse from applicants/agents. They want to do a better job but have just too much on. ...It's not about the money.”
- “My team is faced with long-term staff shortages and chronic workload problems. Two officers in the team have over 100 cases, all overdue their 8-week deadlines.”
- “Under resourcing has, for a long time, placed LPA's under increased pressure and prevented our ability to be more proactive in our approach to planning and achieving quality. The result gives the development sector the initiative and often leads to poor planning outcomes..... I have witnessed how this has changed people's attitudes to planning, affected mental health and led to a hollowing out of the profession and a jaundiced view of the industry at a time when good planning and energy are sorely needed to tackle the major issues of the day.”
Wider skills shortage (11 comments)
Comments also addressed the wider issues of national skills shortages for some professions. The pay scale issues and financial constraints mentioned above mean that these skill shortages greatly impact local authorities' ability to recruit. This issue is even more apparent when recruiting for mid-level or senior roles
- “The difficulties we have in recruiting are with a lack of applicants, not the funding of the role. Our department is a traded service and has more than enough work and income to support more staff.”
- “There is a clear shortage of qualified and or experienced staff across the country, and no one authority is going to resolve it themselves satisfactorily. A sector-wide approach may be needed.”
- “There is not enough long-term planning going on within Councils were more 'growing your own' needs to happen."
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