Why local authorities prefer temporary staff – “far easier to manage”

If you wonder why use of  interim and temporary staff  (‘contingent labour’) is so extensive in many parts of the public sector, read the comments below.  They’re from a set of documents – available on the Web – relating to a London Borough review of their use of temporary staff. Although it is in the public domain, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone here so I won’t say which council it is (you can find it if you’re interested I’m sure).

But it speaks volumes for the culture in some parts of local authority world; and explains why temporary staff are used so widely.  The quotes come from a report into use of temporary staff, and this first is from a meeting the report author held with managers in a particular area of the council.

The managers stated that in practical terms, currently, it was far easier to manage with temporary staff than permanent. They had inherited a whole range of business support staff issues following the .... reorganisation, including high levels of sickness, inflexibility, grievances, disciplinaries, etc. In practical terms, it was far easier to manage temporary staff and they were less expensive to recruit.

So council staff are basically a nightmare to manage.

…. it was often onerous and time consuming to recruit permanent staff and not practicable in some instances given the pressing service demands. In addition, it wasn’t ‘corporate’ to acknowledge it but efforts to engage permanent staff could also attract the provisions of redeployment procedures leading to the possible engagement of unsuitable candidates…

And it takes too long to recruit permanent staff, and if we start that process we have to give preference to unsuitable people who are being laid off from other areas in the council.

However, the above was less important than the fact that there was strong opposition about the recruitment of permanent posts in the current financial climate.

So, perhaps understandably, even if people are badly needed, there’s not going to be much permanent recruitment going on for a while.

Revealing stuff, and some pointers on why, even with the current drive for cost reductions, we may not see contingent labour spend dropping quite as much as you might expect in the public sector.  Good news for the management companies who are increasingly providing ‘vendor neutral’ services to councils  (in particular, Comensura and Matrix SCM) and the technology firms who are making inroads into the UK market now with platforms desgined to manage contingent labour processes and expenditure (including Emptoris, IQ Navigator, Fieldglass, PeopleclickAuthoria...)

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Voices (4)

  1. Christine Morton:

    John, the longest serving agency worker I found in London local government had been in post for 26 years.

  2. John Latchford:

    They also do it to get staff with specialist experience which are not needed forever, so engaging a temporary xxxx project manager with specialist experience who can join at 24 hours notice and be got get rid of quickly is much more efficient than going through long-winded HR driven recruitment processes with their focus on equality and diversity, rather than ability. It does however require staff who are relatively financially independant, anyone with a 100% mortgage and no savings is in for a verystressful life.

  3. Christine Morton:

    I’m afraid this isn’t news! When I was looking at this on behalf of London local authorities in 2005, and then later at the OGC, we found that some local authorities were using agency staff as up to 25% of their FTE headcounts.

    The reasons were varied, but the time to recruit and the bureaucracy involved via HR were major ones. All workforce planning solely focused on the permanent staff, leaving a huge swathe of workers hidden. Surprisingly, there were several sectors where local authority permanent salary rates were too low to attract staff and demand was high – social workers and highways engineers fell under this category.

    Fortunately the tide has changed and there is definitely greater visibility. New work is being done to help HR and Procurement work together to look at demand management issues. The best person for local authorities to look to for help is Georgina Aplin at the Cabinet Office. Highly recommended!

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