Call to lift hiring freeze on 'outdoor' council staff

Mon, Jan 7, 2013, 00:00

There will have to be some relaxation of the Government’s recruitment moratorium in the short term to protect services provided by “outdoor” local authority staff in areas such as roads, parks and sanitation, a report has said.

A programme to recruit about 200 graduates to deal with a “generation gap” emerging in local authorities is among the report’s recommendations.

The report on workforce planning in the local government sector, by a group comprising county managers, senior council officials and Department of the Environment personnel, said the number of outdoor staff had fallen by 20 per cent over recent years and the age profile was rising.

The report, completed in September and released by the Department of the Environment under the Freedom of Information Act, said at present 32 per cent of such staff were aged over 56. It said 12 per cent were due to retire in the next five years and 33 per cent over the next 10 years.

Knowledge erosion

The group warned that the Government’s early retirement scheme as well as the moratorium on recruitment had “resulted in significant erosion of corporate knowledge and will, together with other factors, impact on succession planning”.

The report maintained that 36 per cent of senior managers in the local authority sector were over 56 and only 3 per cent were under 40.

It said the moratorium had resulted in a significant “generation gap” with the percentage of staff overall in the sector under 30 now in single figures “and in the case of some organisations, non-existent”.

“The labour-intensive, citizen-centred and highly visible nature of the workload carried out by the outdoor workers is critical to the meaningful, orderly and proactive delivery of local government services,” the report said.

Maintaining services

“At a time when local charges are being introduced, it is the view of the group that these services need to be maintained, albeit delivered in the most efficient manner possible.

“It is critical that workforce numbers are not reduced to levels where capacity is eroded to the point where essential services are undermined and/or legislative requirements cannot be fulfilled.”

The group said the moratorium should be relaxed in the short term.

It recommended that each local authority immediately prepare a workforce plan to determine the short- to medium-term outdoor staff structure needed to sustain basic services. It said the moratorium and early retirement scheme had “resulted in significant erosion of corporate knowledge” in local authorities. significant “generation gap” was emerging.

The report also said there was an urgent need for graduate-entry-level recruitment, possibly for a two-year period. It also urged that the grade of senior staff officer in local authorities be phased out.

Council workers: In numbers

32%

Of local authority staff are aged over 56

12%

Of local authority staff are due to retire within the next five years

200

Graduates should be hired with a view to closing the “generation gap” in the local authority workforce, according to the report