Issue date: 17 November 2003
ISSUE DATE: 17/11/03
The Unit for Transport & Society at the University of the West of England has now made available the report of a study carried out earlier this year for the County Surveyors Society. The full title of the study was ‘Implementing Plans for Transport and the Built Environment: Addressing the Short Term Skills Gap in Local Authorities’. The report, based primarily on a survey of CSS members, takes a comprehensive view of issues that local transport authorities in the UK are currently facing and also sets out the various measures which they have taken to address these problems.
“Government places a lot of emphasis on local authorities actually delivering national transport policies” explained Professor Glenn Lyons, Director of the Unit. “The LTP process does offer a better basis for planning and evaluating local transport needs. But local authorities often find serious problems in implementing the LTP programmes, because they now involve a lot more small works projects, as well as schemes like travel plans. For this the local transport authorities need more staff and a wider range of skills than they currently have.”
The report highlights a number of points:
- About one in eight of all transport delivery posts in CSS member authorities are not filled, and many authorities are finding it very difficult to recruit suitable staff.
- Particularly serious problems occur in two types of locations: those of high activity and income, notably the South East of England; and more remote rural areas.
- Local authority professional staff salaries are about 15% below the normal level for equivalent posts in the private sector.
- Staff shortages are exacerbated by pressures to meet deadlines, resulting in ‘silo working’ (focusing on individual job outputs) and reducing morale.
- Although most local authorities have useful initiatives in hand, pressures to deliver prevent them from finding much time for staff training.
- The majority of shortages in terms of staff numbers are in the field of highway and traffic engineers.
- Local authority staff have a high proportion of older staff, which suggests that problems could become more acute in future years unless they are tackled urgently.
Overall the study reveals that the skills problems facing local authorities are very serious. They are seriously compromising the effective delivery of integrated transport on which Government has placed a lot of emphasis. While CSS member authorities have engaged in a number of valuable initiatives to address the problems, and some individual successes can be identified, collectively these are falling short of having any serious impact.
John Deegan, Chair of the CSS Strategic Planning and
Regeneration Committee which commissioned the study, said, “The brightest and best engineering and transport planning graduates are too often being seduced by the perceived glamour and better rewards offered by other professions. We need to ensure that Local Authorities do more to address collectively the pay and career development needs of our staff and to refresh the image of our profession''.
The report puts forward four main recommendations:
- The establishment of a local authorities' forum to coordinate good practice in relation to staff recruitment, development and retention.
- A strong case should be presented to central Government for real changes in the regulatory, planning and funding regimes within which local authorities undertake their transport responsibilities: Government backing and support is essential to the successful resolution of the skills problem.
- A comprehensive system of career development should be established throughout local authorities, perhaps in partnership with other bodies involved in transport delivery, as well as academic and professional bodies.
- Other European experience should be reviewed for possible alternative means of addressing the skills problem, perhaps including exchanges of staff.
The executive summary and a downloadable version of the full report can be found on the UTS web site: www.transport.uwe.ac.uk.
The principal researcher was independent consultant Reg Harman, who is a visiting research fellow at the Unit. For further information contact Professor Glenn Lyons on 0117 32 83219 or Reg Harman on 01992 415248.