To consider and provide a recommendation to Cabinet on the proposals set out in the attached report.
Jane Fineman, Head of Finance, Procurement and Parking introduced the report set out in the agenda.
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- The Council budgeted for a £944k deficit for 2022/23. The Council were now budgeting for a £943k deficit for 2023/24.
- The Council had taken advantage of the increases in interest rates. The Council had been fortunate that it had received quite a lot of Government Grant money that it had been able to use to generate income from the higher interest rates.
- Staff vacancies had been good in terms of the Council’s finances. But for the staff working at the Council, it had been difficult as they have had to try and plug the gaps by undertaking the additional work this created. This could not continue.
- Without the increase in interest rates, and the savings made due to staff shortages, offset by the energy increases, the Council would still have a budget deficit of £943k for 2022/23.
- Determining where the Council would be in respect of the number of staff vacancies at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year was difficult to predict as each vacancy was assessed individually depending on the needs of the relevant department.
- Each post was looked at independently and a judgement was then made as to whether it would be filled by the end of the year.
- The 34 vacant posts was therefore just a snapshot in time. The Council had an attrition rate, but also people were joining the Council all the time.
- At the beginning of each year, the Council budgeted for a full complement of staff. It also budgeted for a vacancy rate (a vacancy factor).
- For 2022/23 there was a forecast vacancy factor of £260k. The 2023/24 budget included a vacancy factor of £340k.
- As part of the budget setting process, a new post had been included to recruit an HR Change Manager. The role would include refreshing HR policies post pandemic and addressing the loss of staff. Unfortunately, the post remained unfilled. The market was extremely competitive with salaries at a level the Council could not compete with.
- The Council continued to explore all avenues in trying to attract staff to the Council. However, at present, the Council was not seen as an attractive place the work.
- The Council was committed to try and change this mindset, but the task continued to be very difficult.
- TWBC were not alone in struggling with staff turnover. The Council benchmarked itself against other Councils and unfortunately the story was similar. Other Councils in West Kent were also experiencing 20%- 25% staff turnover.
- The Council had a programme of training but unfortunately this often meant that once trained, officers left for jobs in the private sector offering higher salaries.
- The public sector had a rigid pay structure. Officers could see the maximum they could achieve within their particular grade. Other sectors had a more flexible pay structure that allowed for greater progression within the same grade.
- Public sector pay had fallen quite a long way behind private sector pay. Private sector pay had increased by approximately 6.7%, whereas public sector pay was at about just 2.7%.
- Working for the public sector had many benefits that needed to be more widely publicised.
- ‘Poaching’ from other Councils, although not helpful, happened. There was no formal agreement between Councils not to poach staff. It would also be difficult to enforce as staff were entitled to free movement.
- Paragraph 3.29 of Appendix G referenced that there was the equivalent of 3.29 more staff working on the Ukrainian support project. This additional resource was laudable as it mitigated against any issues when families being hosted came to the end of the 6 month period, they didn’t then become homeless.
- The cost of somebody becoming homeless was far greater than the cost of the 3.29 posts.
- Regarding recruitment the Council now needed to start thinking outside the box and become more creative when trying to attract staff.
- The benefits of working at TWBC should be more widely publicised and it was suggested that Cabinet take this forward as a priority.
- Consideration should be given to the wider home working environment e.g. even looking for staff outside the UK.
- Remote working had now become the ‘normal’. TWBC had a very flexible working policy based around the operational requirements of any particular role. There was no longer a requirement or need to live within a certain distance from the Town Hall.
- However, it should be remembered that there was a benefit to face to face working. Meeting and getting to know your colleagues remained a valuable component of working life.
- There were two components to the current surplus, staff shortages but also the good fortune with interest rates was probably not going to happen again.
- Staff shortages in Local Government was a national issue. Unfortunately Tunbridge Wells’ proximity to London was probably an additional factor.
RESOLVED – That the recommendations to Cabinet as set out in the report be supported.