Public sector pay cap is damaging recruitment and retention says report

A report for UNISON by the Smith Institute shows that the NHS and local councils across the UK are facing a growing staffing crisis as a result of the government’s imposed pay cap.

The research was based on a survey of HR directors and managers in NHS trusts and local authorities, involving in-depth interviews concerning the impact of the pay freeze on staffing levels.

In NHS trusts, the report shows that two-thirds (63 per cent) of those surveyed said they were “unsure” they had enough staff to meet demand. This is despite nine in ten (89 per cent) admitting they were using agency and temporary workers to meet staff shortages.

The majority (85 per cent) said they were finding recruitment “difficult”. This was particularly true of skilled, specialist or experienced healthcare roles as more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of trusts said they were struggling to fill those.

As a result, more than half (56 per cent) of the NHS HR managers surveyed said they were planning to recruit from overseas, with two in five (41 per cent) saying they will do so “more than previous years”.

In local government, the majority of those questioned said the pay freeze was having an impact on recruitment and retention. As a result, 70 per cent admitted they “sometimes” had to recruit people less skilled and experienced than required. The overwhelming majority (88 per cent) said the pay freeze was making it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

Also, one in four (25 per cent) of HR managers in the sector, who spoke to researchers, said they anticipated keeping fewer staff than previous years despite almost a third (31 per cent) revealing they were “unsure” they had enough staff.

Commenting on the report General Secretary Dave Prentis said “The findings raise some serious questions about the future of our public services in the years ahead – not just in terms of quality of the service and care they are able to provide, but also how safely staff are able to do so.

“NHS trusts are already struggling to cope with demand, and are likely to find themselves in an even more difficult situation where they don’t have the staff to deliver vital services. And government changes to immigration rules will make it even harder to recruit enough nurses and other healthcare workers.

“It is not right that while the economy is growing, the public sector is being starved of funds, and hardworking and dedicated public servants are being penalised as their wages are held down with no end to pay restraint in sight.

“Capping pay and keeping it significantly lower than wages in the private sector hardly makes the NHS and local government the attractive and rewarding career option it used to be. If action isn’t taken soon to tackle the emerging recruitment crisis, our public services will become places where no-one wants to work, and that would be terrible for both patients and local residents alike.”

You can read the report here.