Thursday, December 15, 2005

Council staff shortages inquiry call

Councillors to quiz officers to see if city services are being affected
Sunderland Echo
Wednesday, December 13, 2005
by Jeremy Wicking

A probe into staff shortages at the civic centre and how they could be affecting public services is being ordered by city councillors.

Fears are growing that too many key jobs at Sunderland Council are not being taken up and councillors are to grill senior officers about the shortages.

There are worries that unfilled vacancies, especially in key areas such as roads and planning, are beginning to have an impact on the public.

Officers have already said that the council's road safety education programme has slipped because of a lack of trained staff.

In planning, there are shortages and in September it was revealed that 30 vacancies in the department had been unfilled for more than three months. There were also gaps in social services staffing.

The council has, including teachers, 14,500 staff and Coun John Donnelly, chairman of the policy and co-ordination review committee, said that the worry

was that if the level of vacancies was high then it would hit council tax payers.

He and the committee will quiz department chiefs at a meeting on Thursday.

Coun Donnelly said: "There are vacancies in planning and engineering. We have to know the reasons why and whether these and other vacancies are affecting the delivery of services and, if so, what we can do about it.

"The decriminalised parking issue is taking up a lot of staff to correct the mistakes and, I believe, that it is affecting work in that department.

"Obviously, that work will cease in time but it has had an affect."

Coun Donnelly said that he did not believe it was a problem attracting staff to Sunderland or even the council itself as there had recently been a string of top appointments.

Conservative opposition leader Coun Peter Wood said: "We know there are shortages in planning and highways and this is not just Sunderland's problem.

"More pay alone will not solve this problem as there doesn't seem to be enough new planners coming through from university courses.

"As I understand it, there has even been a 100 per cent turnover of staff in the council's highways department over the last four years. I think we are all looking forward to this meeting to hear more about the shortages and what affect they are having,"

Parking campaigner Neil Herron, who has questioned the legality of the city council's whole parking regime, said: "If the parking system was correct in the first place, then none of this would have happened and, if officers are spending a lot of time on this work, it begs the question of the competence of the senior officers who were overseeing the whole parking regime."

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