Fear that job-seekers are 'fed up with tetchy public' as Lancashire councils face recruitment challenge

Lancashire’s councils are exploring whether they can tackle staff shortages by sharing some of the tasks that their workforces carry out.
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The deputy leader of Lancashire County Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that a lack of labour was second only to financial pressures in the list of challenges facing the authority.

Alan Vincent said that County Hall had been talking to the region’s 12 district authorities - like Preston, Chorley and Wyre - to investigate “ways that we might be able to work together to reduce the impact” of a reduction in the number of people in the jobs market since the pandemic struck.

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“We, along with everybody else, have a recruitment issue. One of the problems we face - apart from money - is getting enough people to do all the things that we would like to do.

“So we’ve had…conversations with the districts and we are looking at various ways of sharing labour tasks in certain areas where they find it hard to recruit and so do we. It makes sense to try and make maximum use of the resources we do have between us,” County Cllr Vincent explained.

He was speaking after a report published by the County Councils’ Network (CCN) earlier this month revealed that an additional 320,000 people had become economically inactive in England’s 36 county areas between March 2020 and September 2022 - a 12 percent increase. That means that over three million people were economically inactive in those areas by last autumn, posing a challenge to employers - including county councils themselves.

There was a 21 percent increase in early retirements in county locations over that period - and County Cllr Vincent said it was possible that many people nearing retirement age had simply “had enough of work” in the wake of the pandemic. However, he warned that tempting them back into the daily grind might be an uphill struggle if money was not their main motivation.

Lancashire County Council deputy leader Alan Vincent says finding people to work in local government is tough at the momentLancashire County Council deputy leader Alan Vincent says finding people to work in local government is tough at the moment
Lancashire County Council deputy leader Alan Vincent says finding people to work in local government is tough at the moment
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“I think part of the problem appears to be that a lot of public-facing jobs have gone out of the system - and there is a theory…[that workers] seem to have got tired of the attitude of the public. I suspect, over the pandemic, people have got more short-tempered and maybe a bit tetchier than they would normally [be], so maybe that’s contributed.”

The long-serving Tory politician said that local authority work “ticks a lot of boxes” for people looking for a job, but added that councils had to try to make it “as attractive as we can”.

“It’s ‘steady Eddie’ sort of work - it's very safe, it’s got a decent pension with it and [in the county council’s case], you're in a pretty good environment if you’re coming into Preston to work.”

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics this week showed that economic inactivity nationwide was starting to decline from a peak of almost 642,000 last summer to 516,000 between October and December 2022.

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According to the CCN, the main reason for the growth in economic inactivity in county areas since the start of the pandemic was a 28.5 percent jump in the number of students not working. Long-term sickness also leapt by 10.5 percent in that timeframe.


Change in categories of people economically inactive in county council areas (March 2020 to September 2022):

Students - 637,300 >>> 819,100 (+28.5 percent)

Early retired - 482,000 >>> 585,000 (+20.9 percent)

Long-term sickness - 667,800 >>> 737,800 (+10.5 percent)

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Looking after family/home - 588,300 >>> 560,900 (-4.7 percent)

Total no. of economically inactive - 2,752,000 >>> 3,073,200 (+11.6 percent)

Source: County Councils' Network (CCN)

CCN chair Cllr Tim Oliver said of the statistics: “The number of working age people not seeking employment has been an issue for a number of years, with this trend accelerated by the pandemic. But today’s data shows that county and rural areas have seen a dramatic rise and account for the vast majority of new ‘missing’ workers since March 2020.

“A significant proportion of this rise is attributable to an increase in students who are the workers and innovators of tomorrow. But there has also been sharp rise in the lifestyle choice of early retirement, as well as an increase in long-term sickness, taking 170,000 people out of the employment market in county areas. At a time when we desperately need our local economies to be dynamic and thriving, having a labour shortage impacts on growth and prolongs recession.

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“Therefore, we need more ways to encourage early retirees back into the labour market and to support people who are on long-term sick to come back into employment. But this should be locally led - what could work in Durham could be different in Devon.

"The deals negotiated with seven county areas in 2022 could be transformative – and we urge the government to build on this momentum and agree further deals with as many local leaders as possible in 2023.”