Concerns at number of vacant planning posts at Hertfordshire County Council

The recruitment and retention of those professional staff was highlighted by a cross-Party group of councillors on Tuesday

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 10:03 am

Concerns about the county council’s success in recruiting and retaining planning staff has been highlighted, as part of the scrutiny of ‘growth, infrastructure and planning’ budget proposals.

Currently the county council has posts for around 60 planners – but up to eight per cent of those roles are unfilled.

And the recruitment and retention of those professional staff was highlighted by a cross-Party group of councillors on Tuesday, January 18, as they scrutinised the council’s ‘growth, infrastructure and planning’ (GRIP) budget plans.

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Concerns at number of vacant planning posts at Hertfordshire County Council

According to budget documents, the council’s GRIP directorate aims ‘to support the delivery of high quality sustainable growth and infrastructure across the county’.

Officers determine applications submitted to the county council, comment on applications made to district councils – and develop the countywide strategic infrastructure plan.

They also seek developer contributions for services such as highways, education and libraries – and provide landscape, ecology, archaeology, design and sustainability advice to district councils.

But – says the budget document – the difficulties in recruiting and retaining planning staff are acknowledged as a ‘key risk to delivering the sustainable growth agenda’.

As part of the process to scrutinise budget proposals, executive member for growth, infrastructure and planning Cllr Stephen Boulton highlighted plans for eight new roles within the directorate.

But he recognised that there were already a number of ‘hard to fill’ roles.

According to the budget document, the county council – which already has apprentice and graduate programmes – is looking at new arrangements to retain existing staff, attract new staff and develop professional skills.

And at the meeting assistant director for growth and place Colin Haigh also acknowledged that the employment market was changing.

He said there were people now thinking that they could work ‘ in the suburbs’ – rather than travel into London every day.

And he pointed to applications to work for the county council coming from people living much further away – suggesting maybe it didn’t matter if they lived in Northumberland or Scotland.

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To improve recruitment Cllr Colette Wyatt-Lowe stressed the need to do things differently and to ‘think at a tangent’, while Cllr Jan Maddern stressed the need to build links with an increased number of universities.

Cllr Jeff Jones pointed to concerns that the private sector would recruit staff for higher pay, after years of being trained at the county council.

And Cllr Nigel Taylor suggested that the council should increase the number of recruits, in the knowledge that a lot will leave for the private sector – in a bid to stop costs escalating.

The comments highlighting recruitment concerns will now be fed into later stages of the council’s budget-setting process.

Other areas that were flagged by the group during the three-hour session included the future of the Local Enterprise Partnership, preparations for changes in planning law and the Homes England funding for Harlow Gilston development.

In the past this scrutiny of the county council’s budget proposals has been conducted in private. But this year the sessions – which are virtual – are being webcast and can be viewed at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/watchmeetings.