Central Beds Council is "struggling" to recruit and retain staff

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Changing habits since the pandemic have been blamed

A local authority in Bedfordshire is struggling to recruit and retain staff because of changing habits since the pandemic, a meeting heard.

The situation is made more difficult by a shortage of potential employees in the economy, Central Bedfordshire Council’s audit committee was told.

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CBC’s director of resources Charles Warboys described two emerging risks incorporated into a report to councillors.

Central Beds CouncilCentral Beds Council
Central Beds Council

“One is around recruitment and retention,” he explained. “There are well known issues across the board regarding recruiting staff and hanging on to them across most disciplines in the council. We’re taking all the mitigations we can.”

Conservative Leighton Buzzard North councillor Ken Ferguson asked: “Is it because we don’t pay enough? Why’s it so difficult when it wasn’t a certain period of time ago?”

Mr Warboys replied: “The world has changed significantly as a result of Covid. People’s attitude to work on a national scale and perhaps internationally has changed.

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Unemployment is at its lowest level since 1976. The inability to recruit reflects a shortage of labour in the economy.

“Much of that is because people have decided there’s more to life than work and have taken themselves out of the labour market. There’s a high number of early retirements.

“It’s hard to hang on to people of that kind of age, who might be financially secure. They would have carried on working, but Covid’s ‘taught me there are things I ought to go out and enjoy, so I won’t work’.

“It’s certainly changed attitudes towards staying in one company for a long time. Periods of service are much shorter than they used to be.

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“We used to have a competitive advantage as a local authority in offering a degree of flexibility, plenty of part-time working, a flexible attitude to working from home and a much more generous pension scheme than any other organisation.

“Salaries were always slightly on the low side because of that offer,” he explained. “People are opting out of pensions because they need as much money today to live on.

“That attraction isn’t so great any more. They want more sooner. The fact they’ll be worse off in the future isn’t a consideration.

“All organisations are offering working from home, part-time and flexibility. Our offer is no longer unique. The competition is greater.

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“There’s an increase in people working on an interim or agency basis on a day rate, rather than an annual salary. They lose the sick pay and security, so there’s a real down side to it.

“People are choosing to take more money now than look to the long-term. Staff turnover during Covid was low, but we’ve seen a significant increase since the restrictions were removed. It’s an issue which affects all levels of posts and all disciplines.

“There are some roles which can’t be performed from home, such as a library assistant needing to be on the premises or a school crossing patrol employee required to be on the road side.”

The other new risk is around CBC’s wholly owned companies being able to achieve their anticipated outcomes.