Saturday 3 December 2016

Housing crisis hit by staff shortage

Government warned to hire younger staff to address age profile in sector

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Ageing staff and critical job vacancies in local authorities and the Department of Housing will delay government plans to tackle the shortage of homes across the country unless they are addressed. (Stock picture)
Ageing staff and critical job vacancies in local authorities and the Department of Housing will delay government plans to tackle the shortage of homes across the country unless they are addressed. (Stock picture)

Ageing staff and critical job vacancies in local authorities and the Department of Housing will delay government plans to tackle the shortage of homes across the country unless they are addressed.

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An internal audit of staff requirements at the department has found that "legacy issues" from recruitment embargoes in the public sector are challenging the delivery of housing strategies.

Tackling issues such as mortgage arrears and regulating the construction sector are also being impeded by staff shortages within government.

A department workforce plan seen by the Sunday Independent also points out knowledge gaps and a need for skills to be added at the department to help tackle housing issues.

It is the first such review of the department's staff since a moratorium on recruitment across the civil and public service was lifted.

The document shows the Department of Housing is working under "a delegated sanction" outlined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

It found that 80pc of staff at the department are aged 40 or older and identifies a need for fresh blood and succession planning to allow staff to meet challenges beyond next year.

It also points to a need for younger staff to be hired in elevated "assistant principal" roles within the organisation.

Almost one quarter (23pc) of staff at the department are more than 55 years old. Just 1pc of staff are under 30 years old, says the report.

However, the terms and pay conditions the department is currently able to offer to potential new staff members is also seen as a hurdle to attract the necessary skills.

"A very strict and limiting payroll ceiling is still in operation," says the report.

"Given the nature of the Department's remit and its policy-orientated role there is a higher than normal requirement for assistant principal (AP) and upwards staffing.

"Likewise, there is a need for professional and technical staff who would tend to operate at AP equivalent level."

The plan specifically states that it will be difficult to meet the significant increases in the output of social housing construction being undertaken by local authorities if staff levels are not increased and skills shortfalls met.

"Some critical vacancies remain in key administrative posts which are leading to delays in approvals process for the various housing schemes."

Cost issues are also seen to have an affect on staffing levels at the department.

The report warned that the department can expect to be hit by a spate of retirements in the future.

"There is a recognition of the need to introduce new blood to the organisation, however, the need to do so is limited by our regional dispersal, a payroll ceiling with very limited headroom and the necessity to fill priority posts which tend to be in the professional and technical fields, which require significant expertise and are relatively expensive.

"We also need to put structures in place to prepare for retirements at senior level."

A spokesperson for the department said the workforce plan is a living document under constant review.

"The restructuring of the Department by the new Government in 2016 which altered the spread and focus of its business activities and its title to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is resulting in amendments being required to the Workforce Plan over time," he said.

"The ICT functions of the department have been overhauled and additional staff have been assigned to the area. Resources for staff training are better focussed to ensure that staff have the requisite skills to meet the business needs of the Department."

Sunday Independent

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