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The right environment for interim resource?

Written by: Kathryn Reed is a senior consultant at Tile Hill
Published on: 16 Feb 2023

As a specialist recruiter of interims within environmental services and growth, I spend my working life networking with planning, highways, communities and public realm experts, and working closely with local authority leaders to understand their challenges and deliver talent solutions. From these conversations it’s clear that delivering on climate pledges and navigating uncertainty around proposed legislation changes in waste and planning services will be key priorities for directors in the next 12-18 months.

With a lack of clarity on funding, and local government budgets at breaking point, it will be difficult to make long-term hiring decisions to help meet these challenges head on and I anticipate there will be an increasing demand for specialist skill sets in an already ‘candidate-short’ market.

The Environment Act sets out the legal framework for significant reforms to local authority waste and recycling services, as well as creating new statutory duties and legally binding targets for environmental protection. Local authorities need to begin preparing for the introduction of a deposit return scheme and changes to recycling collection and the frequency of food waste collection that will necessitate different vehicle specifications and new waste infrastructure.

We are already seeing a high demand for strategic interim managers who can review target operating models, as well as operationally strong heads of service, project managers and subject matter experts with experience of route optimisation, fleet replacement, and technology such as in-cab systems.

These changes are inevitable, and councils need to think ahead to anticipate where they may need more capacity and capability to ensure they can access the right skills when they need them.

A continued focus on sustainability and climate change will extend to all services within environmental services and growth this year, creating further demand for flexible resource and specialist skills. Many councils have declared a climate emergency and pledged to become net zero by 2030, a commitment that requires millions of pounds worth of investment over the next seven years. Getting this right is non-negotiable. To successfully bid for funding, deliver major capital programmes and meet environmental objectives, local authorities will need interims with subject matter expertise around transport infrastructure, active travel and renewable energy, specialist programme skills, and experience of navigating central government and working in partnership with the private sector.

At the end of last year, Michael Gove announced proposed changes to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that will amount to a major revision of national planning policy, strengthening the green belt and making housing targets advisory rather than mandatory.

The Environment Act also impacts on planning services. New development will be required to deliver a ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’, increasing the levels of biodiversity on a site by 10%. This will be difficult to determine, given the existing shortage of ecologists in local government, with few authorities having access to their own in-house talent.

Recruitment and retention of permanent planners also remains a challenge: last year, a Local Government Association workforce survey highlighted that ‘more than half of county, district and single tier respondents said they are experiencing difficulties recruiting planning officers and 36% were having problems retaining them’. This year, as planning becomes more complex and permanent recruitment problematic, local authorities will need access to experienced senior planners with experience of both planning policy and development management, who can lead multi-disciplinary teams and provide strong leadership and assurance for time limited periods.

Despite budget pressures, this will all amount to an increasing demand for interims in this coming year. The Environment Act, possible planning reforms and tight deadlines on levelling up funding and net zero commitments mean local authorities will need subject matter experts with specific skills and experience, likely at similar points in time. The risk is that councils start to compete against each other to access these skills and don’t make the most out of the specialists they hire.

It is therefore important local authorities are proactive and work in partnership with recruitment agencies who have a detailed knowledge of the specialist talent pools and skillsets that can help overcome these challenges and deliver a more sustainable future for us all while still demonstrating best value. 

Kathryn Reed is a senior consultant at Tile Hill