MORE than £1million was spent on agency staff by BCP Council’s planning team leaving the local authority department over its salary budget for the year.

The council service used 16 full-time equivalent agency staff in 2021/22 compared to four and two in the previous two years.

This equated to a year-on-year spending increase on planning agency staff of 397 per cent (£226,258 to £1,123,991).

The local authority said this increase, which came to light following a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Echo, was part of the “planning improvement journey”, with “national challenges” in recruiting permanent staff.

The amount spent on agency staff in the planning department in 2021/22 resulted in a £44,637 overspend against the salary budget. This was offset through underspend elsewhere in the service.

Councillor Bobbie Dove, BCP Council portfolio holder for regulatory services, said: “In April 2021, BCP Council agreed new measures to help support its planning service.

“This followed our acknowledgement of high and increasing work volumes alongside existing staff vacancies and legacy processes which required improvement.

“The council prioritised a service improvement plan and embarked on an ambitious planning improvement journey, which received a dedicated funding plan and allowed for additional recruitment to take place, via an agency, to get immediate and professional support, at the level required.”

Cllr Dove said in recent weeks recruitment efforts had seen the department move to a “more sustainable staffing model”.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Bobbie DoveCllr Bobbie Dove (Image: BCP Council)

The FOI response showed the council’s salary spend on non-agency staff had reduced from £4.4million in 2019/20 to £2,468,346.

This variance of £1,079,354 under budget in 2021/22 was not realised due to the increase in agency staff.

Cllr Dove said the council had seen the department’s position improve “hugely” since the start of the “planning improvement journey”.

The number of outstanding applications had fallen by 40 per cent, with agency staff “instrumental in achieving that.

A two-week clearance period earlier in the summer saw 400 applications determined.

The council said the national shortage of planning officers had led to government proposing an increase in planning fees to assist in resolving the resource issue local authorities are facing.

Despite the progress, Cllr Dove said there was still work to be done.

“Agency staff are valued by BCP Council and we’ve always recognised the important role they play. Our world-class region needs a planning service to reflect this and that is why I’m proud that we’ve taken bold and positive steps towards improving this service,” she said.

“The agency spend has increased, but our overall salary spend has decreased, all whilst improving and transforming our service. This is a great achievement and reinforces and justifies the agency expenditure last year.”