Crisis in local government will slow plans for progress

A local government workforce crisis is threatening vital local services – particularly relied on by those who urgently need support – with more than 9 in 10 councils experiencing staff recruitment and retention difficulties, a new survey reveals.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England, has published its 2022 Workforce Survey which identifies significant staff shortages in local government impacting on council services and restricting the ability to meet key target on home building and social care reform.

The LGA survey finds that:

  • When it comes to adult social care, 57 per cent of councils are struggling to retain and 71 per cent struggling to recruit adult social care workers – national adult social care organisations, including the LGA, have called for government to deliver a long-term care workforce strategy and tackle the issue of care worker pay.
  • More than 8 in 10 councils are having difficulties recruiting children’s social workers and almost three quarters (72 per cent) are having problems retaining them – councils are increasingly having to turn to agency staff to plug gaps which is more costly and leave less for children’s services overall.
  • Almost 6 in 10 councils (58 per cent) are struggling to recruit planning officers – this will impact on the ability of councils to plan and deliver new homes and ensure new housing meets local needs and has the right infrastructure.
  • 45 per cent of councils which run environmental health services were having difficulties recruiting environmental health officers and 43 per cent were having difficulties recruiting building control officers – this comes as councils struggle to fulfil new duties being placed on them, such as implementing the new post-Grenfell building safety system and reviewing the condition of social and private rented housing.

Cllr James Jamieson, LGA Chairman, said:

“Working in local government is hugely challenging and varied but equally rewarding. It is a great place to grow your skills and your career.

“Our workforce changes lives for the better every day and help keep communities running. They care for your family, protect children from harm, ensure your favourite takeaway is safe and keep our streets clean.

“Local workforce shortages are adding to the challenges facing our local services.

“In the coming years, some services are likely to continue to see a significant increase in demand which they will not be able to meet without an increase in the supply of skilled staff. Government investment in the local government and its workforce is key to ensure services are protected and also to delivering its own policy agenda.”

There are nearly 1.4 million people who work in around 800 different occupations in local government. Between 2009 and 2022 the English local government staff headcount fell from 2,254,700 to 1,346,400 (full-time equivalent (FTE) totals for the same periods falling from 1,584,200 to 1,022,000). Meanwhile Skills for Care reported that, in September 2021 the vacancy rate in local authority adult social services was 7.1 per cent.

In an effort to tackle the recruitment and retention challenges Councils are offering more flexible working, running targeted recruitment campaigns locally and offering accessible training and development opportunities. 2/3rds of councils indicated they would be investing more in apprenticeships in 2022/23.

The LGA has also called on central government to provide more surety of funding, saying “it can be difficult for councils to make long term plans for staffing and development when they continually have single year funding settlements. It is therefore crucial that councils have long term funding settlements so that local services have a long-term, sustainable future and can confidently make plans to develop or recruit the workforce they need.”

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