Planning Resilience – Public and private sector partners join forces to help tackle recruitment and retention problems in Hertfordshire
The wide-spread recruitment and retention problems facing the planning sector are nothing new. That said, the implications of the current shortage of planners are being felt on the ground now more than ever. It’s no secret that local planning authorities are struggling to varying degrees with staffing and capacity issues across planning and other specialist areas which are critical to delivering good quality growth. The shortage of planners – and specifically, experienced planners – is recognised at both a national and local level. As a result, there has been growing coverage and reports of low morale in the sector.
The Government indicated as part of the Planning White Paper in 2020 that they would develop a comprehensive resources and skills strategy for planning. Nothing detailed (apart from an indication that planning fees will be reviewed) has emerged, despite mounting evidence that the system is struggling with the current level of resources.
As you would expect, this is a concern for Councils across Hertfordshire. Through the Hertfordshire Infrastructure and Development Board (HIDB), councils have been able to come together with private sector partners to understand the issues on both sides and start to identify solutions collectively. As a result of having an open and honest discussion, we understand that the recruitment and retention difficulties are not just being experienced in the public sector, the private sector is also struggling to recruit planners and specialist staff. However, the private sector has the option of providing a salary uplift and other benefits in comparison. It’s clear all parties would welcome well-resourced and functioning planning teams which in turn assists with delivery of high-quality sustainable development.
Recognising this as a priority, a Task and Finish Group was set up in early 2022 (through the Hertfordshire Growth Board) in order to explore these issues further with representatives from industry, higher and further education, and the Councils. The group includes Cllr Linda Haysey, Chair of Hertfordshire Infrastructure and Planning Partnership (HIPP), as the political sponsor and Amanda Foley, the Chief Executive of St Albans City and District Council the Chief Executive sponsor.
The group has now met three times, with the discussion focusing on the extent of the challenges such as skills levels, key gaps in skills, why there are vacancies levels at particular points and salary issues, along with identifying a range of short-, medium- and long-term actions that can be progressed with willing partners.
While still at an early stage, the plans following from the meetings focus on how joint resources and capacity can be used more effectively, along with focused investment in training and development to promote careers in the place sector in Hertfordshire, as well as assisting with measures to help recruitment and retention of planners in the county.
In order to assist with the delivery of the plans, a number of sub-groups are in the process of being established; capacity and funding to support this work will be fundamental to its success. Watch this space with more to follow as this key area of work develops. Please do get in contact if you think you can assist in any way.