The Town Hall is working on a new strategy for its workforce in response to concerns that the impact of austerity could make it unfit for the services it delivers in the future.
Trade union reps cautiously welcomed the strategy, which has been in the works since February, with particular focus to be given to reducing the council’s reliance on agency workers.
It was found to be “unacceptably high”, with agency workers making up 63 per cent of those in the job for between one and four years as at December 2018.
Town Hall chief executive Tim Shields is now to start setting targets for directors of every council department to reduce agency spend.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “There are areas that are clearly to be welcomed – for instance the reduction on agency spend.
“It was Unite who previously had to draw to the council’s attention that within the SEND transport section there were staff who had been engaged as ‘agency’ for 16 years.
“Unite representation led to these staff being offered permanent jobs.
“The question this time is what will be the result of the reduction in agency spend? Will it be more permanent staff? Or will the current permanent staff have to pick up the work? As ever, the devil is in the detail.”
The Town Hall is also planning to put in place an action plan on workforce diversity, with the aim of embedding an “inclusive leadership culture”.
Higher rates of dissatisfaction amongst BAME and disabled staff were reported in the Town Hall according to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Equality Peer Review in April 2018.
The review states: “There is still a visible gap of black and ethnic minority staff at senior levels despite the fact that they are over represented in the workforce more generally.”
Kasab praised the language of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity priorities’, but called on the council to put its words into practice.
The Unite rep added: “I do take issue with the language [on austerity]. Councillors have imposed austerity, leaving our members to provide services with dwindling resources.
“Austerity is why our members working in SEND transport are taking strike action from 18 June. We need fewer words and more action – councillors should take a lead from our Unite members.”
Town Hall documents say “there is a risk that after many years of austerity, the council’s workforce is not fit for the services that we deliver in the future or how we deliver them”.
The risk is given in the Town Hall’s register matrix a 3/5 for Likelihood and a 4/5 for Impact.
According to the report, the council plans to enhance its analysis of pay gaps, with a data review of the workforce underway since May, as well as to undertake a local recruitment campaign to attract Hackney residents to work at the Town Hall.
Also expected as part of the new strategy will be work to pilot the collection of demographic data on employees, starting with making these records when grievance processes are initiated.
Glyn Harries, joint Hackney local government UNISON branch secretary, said: “UNISON welcomes, after significant pressure from the Trade Unions in Hackney Council, that the council is now stating that work will be undertaken to collect demographic data of employees within HR processes, starting with the grievance process as a proof of concept as part of the new workforce strategy.
“It is this lack of data that has been key to the failure of the council to acknowledge serious issues around different treatment of different demographic groups within Hackney Council, which is also reflected strongly in the long delayed but finally released 2018 Staff Survey, wherein BAME staff had much higher concerns/complaints of bullying and harassment and much lower confidence in the council’s systems to tackle this.”
Hackney Council was approached for comment.