Still major questions over staffing at North Northamptonshire Council
A scrutiny committee has been able to get answers over just how many staff the new authority employs.
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By Sarah Ward
Ten months on from its creation and North Northamptonshire Council is still unable to tell councillors how many staff it employs.
The authority was formed in April after two years of local government reorganisation which saw the eight existing Northants councils closed down and replaced with two new unitaries.
The larger county council, which employed around 5,000 staff, was split into two, although some services between the two unitaries are still shared.
There have been concerns since vesting day about how many staff the council employs, the vacancy rate and the use of agency staff, but despite attempting to find out during the current budget scrutiny process, the council’s finance and resources committee has not received an answer.
A report to go before the executive tomorrow says:
“Despite several requests, the Committee have (sic) not been able to view overall staff numbers, staff vacancies and the level of agency numbers employed by the council.
While unfilled positions potentially save money, agency workers are more expensive. Moreover, under-staffing can lead to pressures on employees who decide therefore to leave, resulting in either additional agency personnel or higher salaries in an attempt to fill the vacancies in a sellers’ market.
Of course, it is possible that the consequent budget savings and pressures largely negate each other, but this should not be automatically assumed.
The Committee recommends that the Executive review staffing levels, vacancies, and the cost of agency workers to satisfy itself that the budget is realistic in terms of short-term staffing changes.”
NN Journal understands IT issues and staff being allocated to the incorrect departments is partly behind the uncertainty on staffing numbers.
This will be the first budget that the new authority will set. It is due to be agreed by full council later this month*. Read an overview of the budget.
The committee, which is chaired by Labour’s Cllr Mark Pengelly also had concerns about the lack of public consultation and feedback on the budget - which will see council tax rise by 3 per cent. And the committee was quite forceful on what it thought the authority should be doing in terms of its assets.
When five councils joined to form North Northamptonshire Council there were a number of civic buildings and offices that were doing duplicate functions and which had been considered for sale. But the committee states the council, which is run by chief executive Rob Bridge, is not moving fast enough:
“The Committee believe that there is an urgent need for rationalisation of Council civic and commercial properties, to ensure that any spare capacity identified is considered for external rent or potential sale.
“Whilst it is recognised that there is a need to ensure that the Council’s own office requirements are fully satisfied, the Committee recommends that this piece of work be completed as quickly as possible, and that the Committee have sight of any final report on this prior to any determination by the Executive.
Fees and charges is another issue with the scrutiny committee expressing disappointment that in the 19 hours of meetings it had with senior officers and portfolio holders to discuss the budget, it was not presented with a breakdown of fees and charges.
The committee has made a number of recommendations to the executive and requests
Ensuring the 40 percent added into the 2022/23 budget for utility cost increases is realistic
Requesting an update on the community hubs mentioned in the blueprint for the new authorities as the budget does not include mention of the new facilities
Recommending an increase in early years funding, especially in communities of high deprivation
Requesting that in future years the budget for the children’s trust is open to scrutiny before it is decided (this was agreed in September).
The executive meeting is being held at the Corby Cube* tomorrow at 10am.
In an earlier version of this story we said the budget meeting was in March. Tomorrow’s meeting will be held at Corby Cube rather than Wellingborough. We apologise for the errors.
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