THERE is a struggle to hire enough nurses, social workers, occupational therapists (OTs), bin collectors and adult social care staff in West Berkshire

Low wages, lack of career progression, and a government push to reduce immigration are all reasons for the difficulties in recruiting these roles. 

Some vacancies for these posts have been repeatedly advertised, while for others there are ongoing adverts to try to fill the roles.  

A recently revealed confidential report shows how West Berkshire Council is addressing ‘recruitment difficulties’. 

Stefanie Watts, human resources (HR) officer, wrote a report in August this year, which was published last week following a freedom of information request. 

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She said council-run care homes found it difficult recruiting care assistants, because private care homes often pay more than the council offer. 

Ms Watts said: “A new private care home is due to open near to the town centre this autumn, which is a potential threat to our responsive care provider teams.”

Falkland Grange, run by company Porthaven, was advertising vacancies at a higher salary than WBC at the time of the August report. Ms Watts said: “Human resources met with the responsive care provider service manager, to devise a strategy to manage this threat.”

OTs are another difficult area, ‘in part due to changes to government rules on immigration, which has removed the role from the list of roles there is a shortage of’. 

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Ms Watts said: “The Royal College of Occupational Therapists is lobbying the [government’s] migration advisory committee for OTs to be added to the shortage of occupation list.” 

There is also a national shortage of registered general nurses, and the council are competing with the NHS who offer competitive benefits. 

Birchwood care home, at the time of the August report, had six full-time vacancies for nurses. Ms Watts said: “The manager continues to explore international recruitment via an agency.” 

Parking wardens have been difficult to recruit and retain, due to ‘the stigma attached to the role’, as well as low pay and lack of opportunities for promotion.

The recently introduced green bin charge was named as a factor in the high turnover of bin collectors. Six employees resigned in the last financial year, because of poor salary, lack of career progression, and as the ‘job didn’t meet initial expectations’.

The council is addressing these ‘recruitment difficulties’ through advertising on social media, improving the council’s recruitment website, and hiring more apprentices. HR report twice a year with updates, with the next due in February.

In a statement, Abigail Witting, HR manager, said: “Our HR team work closely with all services to proactively tackle any recruitment issues that may arise. This may include proactive campaigns to attract staff where needed, for example, we are currently looking to recruit civil enforcement officers and put a recruitment strategy in place in August which resulted in two successful appointments.

“The waste services team currently has no vacancies. A new waste services manager recently started and has met with HR to discuss positive steps to reduce turnover in the future. The recruitment issues around social workers is a national issue, and West Berkshire is working hard to not only recruit but to retain social workers by offering an attractive retention package.

“The council do not directly employee refuse collection staff. They are recruited via our contractor Veolia.”

A spokesperson for the Unison West Berks branch said: “The report is no surprise to Unison. The branch has repeatedly drawn these issues to management’s attention previously.

"Research has shown that comparable unitary authorities like Caerphilly, Cheshire and Wiltshire pay notably better starting salaries for some key roles than West Berkshire Council. These areas have costs of living many magnitudes below that which staff are faced with in West Berkshire.

"Earlier this year a benchmarking exercise through a third party consultant was undertaken with respect to senior management pay. It is with disappointment the branch have noted there is absolutely no appetite to extend this exercise to rank-and-file officers who do so much to actually deliver services for our communities."