Council struggles to recruit officers
PROBLEMS persuading suitable candidates for 'specialist roles' to move to Stoke-on-Trent have been blamed for a £300,000 surplus in a council department.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council's corporate services directorate, overseen by chief John van de Laarschot and new deputy Charlie Brooker, is on course for the budget underspend.
And the reason given by officers is that they are having trouble filling vacancies for key middle-management posts.
And they have also been spurned by new recruits using job offers to boost wages with their current employer.
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Measures to make the posts more attractive have included increasing the salary on offer.
The council acknowledged the city's struggle to attract white collar professionals in launching its drive for more executive housing. All of its top-earning officers currently live outside the city boundaries.
Peter Bates, the council's assistant director of finance, said: "There is a combination of factors. There are cases where candidates have used a job offer to go back to the ranch and renegotiate with their employer. We have fallen foul of that three times.
"These are skilled roles. I will not appoint just anybody for the sake of filling the position."
Clive Rushton, branch secretary for Unison Stoke-on-Trent, pictured, said: "I don't know whether it's an issue with Stoke-on-Trent or a genuine problem, or just that the right people are not coming forward for these posts.
"There are problems with the wider economy in this area. You don't think of Stoke-on-Trent as associated with one particular thing anymore. Whether it's pits, pots or steel or even the days of when Stoke-on-Trent had a lot of call centres.
"There could be a multitude of reasons which are not directly related to the council. But in terms of the city's economy and the general state of things in the city, we are in an area of deprivation."
Councillor Andrew Lilley, chairman of the business services scrutiny committee, said: "The last thing we need is to be putting people into these posts who can't respond to and handle the pressure that is coming, particularly with welfare reform."
The city council is making budget cuts of £24 million this year after a £35.6 million savings programme in 2011/12.
Forecasts at the end of the first financial quarter showed the authority was on course to overspend by £3.8 million this year, largely due to the rising demands of caring for vulnerable children, but this has now been reduced to £3.5 million.
And the authority has now received more than £2 million of the £5 million investment put in jeopardy by the collapse of Iceland's Landsbanki in 2008.
Mr Bates said the council is now opting for safer investments, adding: "Our returns are not fantastic but all of our investments are with Triple-A rated institutions and are on 24-hour call so we can make plans to remove taxpayers' money where there is a concern."