Posted: Wed 28th Jun 2023

Newport City Council ‘can’t survive’ without agency staff, says council officer

news.wales / newyddion.cymru
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jun 28th, 2023

Newport City Council “can’t survive” without agency staff, a senior council officer has admitted. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Competition from the private sector and pay constraints, mean local authorities struggle to recruit and retain staff, council officers argue. This can lead to a reliance on agency staff. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

In a performance scrutiny committee meeting, senior council officer Kevin Howells said £16.8 million was spent on agency staff last year. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

At the meeting, Tracy McKim, head of people, policy and transformation, said: “We can’t survive without employing supply teachers and agencies. We can’t afford to pay additional resources [for staff] to sit around and be called-in when someone’s off.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Ms McKim added: “There’s a balance to be struck and generally speaking those agency costs are mitigated by having a vacancy.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

A Freedom of Information request revealed the council spent £12.8 million on agency staff in 2021/22 and £8.9 million in 2020/21. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Strategic director at the council, Rhys Cornwall, defended the use of agency workers. He said: “It may be in schools, it may be in refuse collection, but we have got to have somebody there, that day, to do that job.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report stated the council is aiming to limit its use of agency workers, and that its approach to agency use is currently under review. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Howells said part of the council’s recruitment problem is that people believe a “myth” that you have to know someone in the council to get a job there. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

He added: “We will see the [recruitment] team more and more regularly getting out in to the city, going to job fairs, de-mystifying around Newport City Council and trying to attract applicants into the organisation. You don’t have to know someone to be an employee.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Councillor Kate Thomas, who represents Stow Hill, said a package of benefits should be presented with a job opportunity. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report states the council offers car purchase schemes, cycle-to-work schemes, a high street discount card, technology schemes, discounted leisure facilities, and the ability to purchase additional annual leave. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Home working is also advertised as a benefit of working for the council. Ms McKim said this also lets the local authority to reach a wider pool of applicants, as people won’t need to travel to the office everyday. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Retention is also a problem for the council. In 2022/23, 850 members of staff left the local authority, which equates to a turnover of 14.4%. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The high turnover is a result of employees seeking better paid positions elsewhere, according to the council’s report. Local authorities often have limited budgets, with pay being set nationally. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Howells said an emerging trend of millennials – those born around 1981 to 1996 – not staying in jobs as long is also affecting the council’s retention. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

According to the report, millennials tend to stay in jobs for an average of two years and eight months. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report states that budget cuts in certain areas of the council takes a “toll” on staff morale and wellbeing because of increased pressure on them. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Saeed Adan, who represents Pillgwenlly, suggested more collaboration with other local authorities could help with recruitment and retention issues. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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