Nottingham City Council’s new finance chief has responded to significant concerns over a lack of senior staff after a number of recruitment drives failed.
The authority cited its own reputation problems and the labour market among the reasons why four recruitment campaigns had received “almost zero responses”.
Interim staffing has been heavily relied on by the council as a Government-appointed improvement board demands rapid recovery to its finances and culture following the collapse of Robin Hood Energy.
This has incurred significant costs, with some consultants charging upwards of £1,000 per day for work.
During a Scrutiny Committee meeting at Loxley House on January 4, Cllr Jane Lakey (Lab) described the staffing problems as a “significant risk” to the council.
The council’s newly-appointed director of finance and section 151 officer, Ross Brown, responded to the concerns.
He was appointed on January 3 and will be taking over on a permanent basis from Clive Heaphy, who held the position on an interim basis for two years.
Mr Brown, who has worked in local government for more than 17 years, including seven years in the same role in the London Borough of Ealing, said the issues are down to three main factors including reputation, pay grading and the labour market.
“It is a very difficult recruitment market across the board for all professional services, including frontline staff as well,” he said.
“We are seeing a trend and a shift, a transition, particularly with the more experienced professionals going into interim work because of the flexibilities and rather compelling pay.
“Local authorities have some quite restrictive ways in which we are allowed to pay interim staff more than we are established staff, that’s just the way the pay grade works overall.
“It is about making sure we have got the right structure, the right skill-sets, to make sure we deliver.
“We do know that professional services work best when you have got a continuity of workforce that is invested within the city, or the borough, or the district, in which they serve.
“So we need to think quite strategically about how we do that effectively.”
Mr Heaphy had been working as the section 151 officer when the wrongly spent Housing Revenue Account millions were uncovered.
A section 151 officer is a legally-required position to make sure a local authority has its financial affairs in order.
He added staffing problems have been difficult to solve, but are not unique to Nottingham.
The authority approved £1m in September last year in a bid to help bridge the “skills, knowledge and capacity gaps” in its finances sector.
“We’ve been out on recruitment campaigns on a number of occasions, four occasions to my mind on finance staff in particular, and we’ve had an almost zero response [rate] to those adverts for senior management,” Mr Heaphy said.
“It is slightly better at the junior level.
“We have had to therefore resort to the interim market to find suitably experienced people, bearing in mind Nottingham is a complex authority under Government intervention.
“It is a difficult market. In terms of Nottingham, salaries are not overly competitive with what you would expect in other big cities and certainly, London, so are we attractive?
“Because Nottingham has got issues and problems some people are put off by that kind of organisation that we are at this moment in time, and we need to create the conditions to say that we are a recovering authority, come and join us and be part of the recovery in the future.”