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, is today publishing its 2022 Workforce Survey which lays bare the scale of the issue.
It said significant staff shortages in local government risk having a serious impact on councils’ capacity to deliver services. It is also restricting their ability to help government meet key pledges, such as building more homes, boosting and levelling up economic growth and reforming adult social care.
For example, the LGA survey finds that:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• More than a fifth (22 per cent) are experiencing recruitment difficulties for HGV drivers – fast inflating HGV driver salaries in the private sector are an issue for councils and their contractors, putting pressure on gritting and waste and collection services.
• 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.
Councils are trying to tackle recruitment and retention issues, such as by offering more flexible working, running targeted recruitment campaigns locally and offering accessible training and development opportunities. To develop the pipeline of skills of which are in desperate need, councils are also looking to grow their apprenticeships offer with nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) saying they were going to do this in 2022/23.
However, the LGA said the local government workforce has a diverse range of skills, professions and occupations and the workforce challenges each face are equally complex.
The LGA said one clear barrier is funding pressures faced by local government. 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.
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 local government and its workforce is key to ensure services are protected and also to delivering its own policy agenda.”
Local government workforce crisis – in numbers
• 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).
• The Society of Local Authority Chief Executive Officers (Solace) has warned that 33 per cent of council chief executives and senior managers in England did not have enough skilled staff to run services to an acceptable standard.
• Skills for Care reported that, in September 2021 the vacancy rate in local authority adult social services was 7.1 per cent.
• England’s children’s social work vacancy rate rose to 16.7 per cent in 2021, amounting to 6,500 empty posts and the highest rate since 2017.
• Public health staff have been left exhausted from the strain of tackling the pandemic in local communities, with local authorities finding it increasingly challenging to recruit and retain staff. The LGA’s 2022 Public Health Annual Report, jointly published with the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), found more than half say their public health services are running with disruptions as a result of staffing shortages