Jacqui Gedman said the council was “really struggling” to recruit and retain staff in what she described as “technical areas”, and faced competition from other local authorities who are also targeting the same shallow pool of talent.
She said recruitment was “certainly something that’s on our risk register: that as demand goes up and retention becomes more of an issue if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with a situation where we actually won’t be able to deliver services”.
The stark message came as Council Leader Shabir Pandor outlined his priorities for the next year at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny management committee (July 26).
The council is facing a skills shortage and has around 1,000 “unoccupied positions” on its books.
Coun Jackie Ramsay (Lab, Dewsbury South) asked about the council’s ability to deliver “and whether you think we’ve got particular risks in particular areas”.
Coun Pandor (Lab, Batley West) admitted there was “an issue around capacity” in environmental services such as highways, planning and refuse collection.
He said: “We have to continue delivering and, at the same time, put the front-line staff back in who can actually respond to residents. On the back of that demand is increasing and resources are diminishing.
“We are competing within an already shrinking market with other local authorities. What we don’t want to do is start to increase the salaries, because that doesn’t solve the problem for anybody.
“With the cost of living crisis what we can’t do is turn the tap off. When you turn the tap off you start to take out resources from the budget, it doesn’t really do anything when you start coming out of the cost of living crisis, in terms of recovery.”
Council officers have previously said that the authority cannot compete with the private sector where salaries are higher but that it is working to retain existing staff as well as recruit new workers.
Ms Gedman said: “I certainly think that there are issues currently with some of the technical areas.
"We’re really struggling. And as we’ve come out of Covid and people have wanted to invest more – which is a great thing – we’re all competing for the same technical skills. So there’s a definite issue there.”
She said flexibility by the council in accommodating skills would assist in recruiting and retaining staff where working practices had shifted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
She said there was “a big plan” behind that approach, and that all services across the council had a plan to ensure ensure that they’ve got “the capacity and the capability to deliver the services they need to”.