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Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service Staffing Update

Meeting: 14/01/2020 - Planning and Transport Scrutiny Committee (Item 51)

51 Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service Staffing Update pdf icon PDF 203 KB

Minutes:

Matter for Decision

 

The report provided an update on the staffing position within the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service.

 

Decision of Executive Councilor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces and the Executive Councilor for Transport and Community Safety

 

  i.  Noted the content of the report and ongoing work to secure appropriate staffing to support the work of the team.

 

Reason for the Decision

As set out in the Officer’s report.

 

Any Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

Not applicable.

 

Scrutiny Considerations

The Committee received a report from the Joint Director of Planning & Economic Development and Assistant Director which provided progress of the delivery of recruitment to the Shared Planning Service.

 

An updated staffing structure was handed to Members for their information.

 

In response to comments and questions from the Committee the Joint Director for Planning and Economic Development and Assistant Director said the following:

 

  i.  Reasons that staff had given in exit interviews for leaving had included a range of matters though workloads, career progression, change of direction such as work in the private sector and the cost of living issues; there had also been several retirements in the service.

  ii.  A development programme was now in place developed from the feedback of the exit interviews, allowing a structured approach to learning and development.

  iii.  Generic job description had been introduced giving flexibility to officers to move around the service with internal processes simplified, again based on feedback received from staff. This would allow staff to gain experience in different disciplines of the planning service without having to look externally.

  iv.  There was a national shortage of planners; neighbouring local authorities were facing the same recruitment challenges, particularly at senior and principal level.

  v.  There was a large variety of work within the service that was attracting people’s interest.

  vi.  Acknowledged that 2019 had been a very challenging year for the planning service.

 vii.  A vast number of additional hours had not been focused on service delivery as the service was transformed and merged into one single service.

viii.  An improvement in the service would be seen this year; there was several changes to assist officers which were:

·  A new ICT system and workflow which would be rolled out in February which would offer an improved self-service capability. This would also show the live progress of the application.

·  Additional staff would be joining the service in January which would improve the contact access for members of the public.

·  Alongside the enhanced “workforce management” the service was also the first large shared service to roll out “Council Anywhere”.

·  An investment had been made in issuing mobile phones to all professional officers to enable fully flexible working and making them more contactable. 

·  Agile management and a progressive approach to delivering work outcomes meant that some specialist staff had been enabled to work remotely. This had retained their skills when personal commitments would have otherwise prompted them to leave.

·  Continued dialogue with local agents outlining the changes that the planning service was undertaking; highlighting practices such as high frequency amendments to planning applications would have to cease as this was inefficient use of staff time and created long delays for residents.

  ix.  Acknowledged there was a back log of outstanding planning cases. Target days had been introduced to reduce these cases.

  x.  A current recruitment campaign was live to target more senior staff.

  xi.  Infrastructure was being put in place to retain staff for career progression.

 xii.  There were no junior planner vacancies as young graduates wanted to come to Cambridge; the challenge was they could not progress fast enough to meet the needs of the business.

xiii.  Recruitment of more experienced planners who had families raised the issue of affordability of living in Cambridge. Relocation was an issue.

xiv.  Exploring the possibility of recruiting oversees with a view to advertising this year; South Cambridgeshire District Council held a licence with the Home Office to recruit overseas.

xv.  Had engaged with unions regarding pay but there were issues with single status legislation. Neighbouring authorities which did not have union recognition were able to offer higher salaries for the same job. 

xvi.  Working with the unions had allowed the planning services to offer other financials benefits such as golden hello process and market factor supplement.

xvii.  Education and training were also enticements that staff would benefit from.

xviii.  A Performance and Improvement Officer would work to produce new indicators to highlight long standing planning cases much quicker and procedures were in place on how they could be dealt with.

xix.   Reiterated the changes to the recruitment policy and practice.

xx.  Confident that there would be improvements in the ‘turnaround time’ and the capacity to respond to queries from the public.

xxi.  Work was being undertaken for staff to understand the priority and importance of customer engagement.

xxii.  There were some outstanding applications which were unusual as they had not been progressed by the applicant for numerous years.

xxiii.  Data could be provided on the backlog to the Committee and the level of work that was being undertaken and completed. 

xxiv.  Agreed to publish in a monthly information sheet / e-mail on the following statistics to show how the service was evolving:

·  Number of permanent number of staff in service

·  Number of agency staff in service

·  Number of vacancies.

·  Contact details of staff.

·  A focus on communication and how information was communicated to residents.

xxv.  Moving to more digital platforms to raise the profile of the planning service; there was a post for an Engagement and Marketing officer to assist with this service.

xxvi.  New team leaders would increase communication with communities and residents increasing the personalisation of the service.

xxvii.  Thanked the Committee for their continued support.

 

The Committee then spoke of the incredible work that those in the planning services undertook and were aware of the immense pressure that they must be under.  It was important to note the Committees’ thanks to all staff and understand that the report had been brought forward to ensure that improvements were being made for both staff and residents. Would expect a mid-year report on the service.

 

The Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces reminded the Committee that Building Control had undertaken a similar transition, which had been through some ‘terrible’ times. The service now had a solid reputation throughout the industry and was deemed as one of the best in the Country, winning awards and setting new standards. 

 

There were positive comments coming through on the forums.

 

The planning team and planning officers were an integral part to all the schemes taking place in the city and south Cambridgeshire and didn’t get the recognition when awards were won. Moving forward when awards were won, those officers involved will be recognised internally.

 

The Committee unanimously endorsed the Officer recommendations.

 

The Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces approved the recommendations.

 

Conflicts of Interest Declared by the Executive Councillor (and any Dispensations Granted)

 

No conflicts of interest were declared by the Executive Councillor