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Recruitment issues impacting building safety across Wales

18 Jan 2024 3 minute read
Scaffolding. Image: JulianB Flickr

Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

A shortage of building inspectors, an ageing workforce and building safety reforms are causing major problems for councils, a building control manager warned.

The Senedd’s public accounts committee began taking evidence for an inquiry on building safety following a report by the auditor general, entitled Cracks in the Foundations.

Peter Richards, who has been building control manager at Swansea Council for 23 years, described recruitment issues as dire across the 22 councils in Wales.

Concerns

Raising the importance of having senior staff to mentor new entrants, he warned committee members that the industry is “haemorrhaging” experience.

He cited the example of his council advertising two senior officer vacancies four times in recent years but failing to attract applicants.

Mr Richards, who chairs Local Authority Building Control (LABC) Cymru, raised concerns about private-sector competition, saying the most experienced staff are being poached.

He recognised the importance of workforce registration but warned that the competency requirements of building safety reforms risk making recruitment problems worse.

‘Major problems’

He told MSs that senior staff, who have 40 years’ experience in some cases, are being told they are no longer competent to practise from April 1.

“They’re leaving and it’s causing us major, major problems,” he said.

Mr Richards raised the example of three highly experienced officers in Swansea saying they are going to walk away rather than sit competency tests.

He said: “They’re practising on a daily basis but, suddenly, they’re not competent any more.”

Peter Keates, the LABC’s executive director, told the committee there is a vacancy rate in the profession of 16% across Wales.

“It’s high but it’s not as high as the national average of 40%,” he added.

He said so-called grandfather rights, which would allow experienced staff to continue to practise without accreditation, would not achieve the necessary step change in the industry.

Austerity

Raising concerns about an ageing profession, Mr Keates explained that a lack of trainees coming through has been driven by austerity and savings targets for councils.

He welcomed a £350,000 Welsh Government grant which helped create eight traineeships but he cautioned that many more will need to be recruited.

Mr Richards agreed that the funding is insufficient to mitigate workforce shortages.

He said councils will need to work closer with neighbouring authorities, urging the Welsh Government to ensure building control is put on a regional footing in future.

“It has to be high on the agenda to address the issues of the new regime,” he told MSs.

‘Dream’

Asked about Scotland’s “hub” approach, Mr Richards argued there is a lot to be learned, saying: “It would be a dream come true for me personally if that was the way forward.”

He welcomed the auditor general’s calls for a review of a mixed-market approach, saying: “You shouldn’t be able to choose your own inspector.”

He shared the auditor general’s concerns about non-compliance with legislation on fees.

During the evidence session on Wednesday January 17, the witnesses explained current guidance says any surplus does not have to be ring fenced by councils for building control.

Mr Richards raised concerns that key stakeholders, such as the Welsh Local Government Association and LABC executives, were not consulted as part of the Audit Wales review.


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