Agenda item


Purpose of the item: To provide an update on the new People Strategy, and progress made in the areas impacting the workforce that were raised by the Committee in October 2022.




Tim Oliver, Leader of the Council (Lead Member for HR and OD)

Leigh Whitehouse, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Resources

Shella-Marie Smith, Director for People and Change

Bella Smith, Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance

Tom Holmwood, Head of Resourcing


Key points made in the discussion:


  1. The Leader of the Council outlined the main reasons given by people leaving the organisation. First was for a better reward, with 62% of staff paying for Surrey housing costs, and every member of staff had been offered a pay increase for 2023/24 of no less than 4.5%. Second was lack of opportunity and seeking promotion; people did not feel there was clarity in the career path and there was a need to reassure staff that most can move up or across within the organisation. Third was work-life balance and there was a need to reassess the best way of transacting Council business post-pandemic.


  1. A Member queried if the 15% target voluntary turnover was ambitious enough and which areas of staffing exceeded the target. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance said turnover overall, currently at 14%, compared to a Local Authority average of 22% in a very fluid job market. A balance had to be achieved between stability and avoiding stagnation. Children’s social workers were the main problem area, although turnover there was just under 20% compared with just under 30% last summer.


  1. A Member asked for clarification on what was meant by ‘the Surrey Way’. The Executive Director of Resources explained it was a guiding framework to ensure everyone in the organisation shared the same vision, and culture to support that. Its people element was monitored through Pulse surveys and the People Strategy Performance Board.


  1. A Member suggested physical contact was important to build trust amongst colleagues. The Leader of the Council said there was not a one-size-fits-all approach to working and it should be outcomes-focused, looking at whether staff were delivering on expectations and not being prescriptive about how.


  1. A Member asked if a cost analysis had been done to understand if increasing salaries could bring down turnover sufficiently to save enough on recruitment to cancel out the cost. The Head of Resourcing said this had not been undertaken but would be considered. The intention was for Connect2Surrey, partly owned by the Council, to become the primary vehicle to recruit interim and contract workers, a shift away from using external agencies which keep 100% of the fees.


  1. A Member enquired what percentage of staff who had resigned, if any, had subsequently been persuaded to stay. The Head of Resourcing said this data was not captured but it was not good practice to offer more money to stay and would likely only delay an already decided departure. The Leader of the Council suggested the process for former staff to rejoin the organisation should be streamlined.


  1. A Member questioned if there was sufficient data from the exit surveys to make any meaningful decisions. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance recognised they needed to increase the 11% take-up of the surveys, which were introduced last summer.


  1. The Committee was assured Surrey County Council was a ‘Carer Confident’ employer. People with caring responsibilities were given the opportunities of flexible and agile working and this was highlighted at the forefront of job adverts. It was also ‘Disabled Confident’, meaning people with disabilities who meet essential criteria were guaranteed an interview.


Tim Oliver left at 11.06 am.


  1. Every three months quarter of the workforce was asked to give their views of the organisation by participating in the Pulse survey. Current take-up was higher than previously, 37%, and a target of 50% had been set. Bullying was tracked through the Pulse survey, which showed eight per cent of respondents felt they had experienced discrimination in the past year.


  1. A Member enquired if there was an overarching policy across Directorates for leaving handovers, after hearing of cases where parents had been emailing their case workers about EHCPs for weeks before realising they had left the organisation. The Director for People and Change informed there was a leaver’s checklist on the intranet, but this was clearly not being used consistently. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families contributed that consultants due to look at the end-to-end process in the SEND setting would be alerted to that particular issue.


  1. The Chairman considered the average absence rate of 6.7 days a year to be high. A Member questioned why the target, of 7 days, was higher than what had already been achieved. The Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance explained levels had increased locally and nationally since last year, because sickness levels were low during Covid lockdowns when people were not mixing so not picking up germs. Absences were higher than average in some directorates, particularly in adult social care.


  1. A Member suggested the Council should be visiting all schools’ careers fairs routinely. The Director for People and Change acknowledged they could share employment opportunities at the Council with students in a less ad hoc way.


  1. Asked how HR had managed to reduce the time to hire since September 2022, the Head of Resourcing said they had dealt with an unusually large volume of appointments last year, just shy of 3,800. This had stretched resources and resulted in an increased time to hire, which had since normalised.


Actions/requests for further information:

1)    Provide a breakdown of voluntary turnover figures for SEND case workers, foster carers, mental health care workers and Highways staff and bank staff (Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance)


2)    Provide a definition of the Surrey Way and short overview of how achieving it is being measured (Executive Director of Resources)


3)    Share the analysis of quarter 4 exit survey data in September 2023 (Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance)


4)    Make the latest Pulse survey data available (Head of Insight, Programmes and Governance)


5)    Inform Committee of the take-up of career sprints so far (Director for People and Change).




The Resources and Performance Select Committee welcomes the values outlined in the People Strategy and notes the work done by the Recruitment and Retention Transformation Board in Children’s Services. The Committee recommends that:


1)    People and Change help the Committee to monitor the People Strategy’s effectiveness by reporting its latest three months of key performance indicators to Committee at each of its quarterly Performance Monitoring sessions.

2)    People and Change research which Local Authorities in England have a declining voluntary turnover and what they have done to achieve this trend.


3) (a) Council policy ensures leavers’ final days in post are freed up to leave a proper handover. Number of days will be agreed with the line manager and will depend on the complexity of the role.


(b) Line managers are reminded to consistently ensure that leavers set up an out of office reply on departure, to include their date of leaving and the identity and contact details of their (interim) successor. This will ensure, for example, that parents always know how to make contact with a new social worker or SEND case officer.


4) (a) People and Change report to the Select Committee, by the end of September 2023, a plan to encourage take-up of exit interviews and to increase the 11 per cent response rate to exit surveys.


(b) Before a member of staff leaves Surrey County Council, they are offered a pre-exit meeting with their line manager to discuss if there are other opportunities within the Council that might better suit them.


5) As part of the budget-setting process, People and Change undertake a cost analysis to determine if increasing salaries with the intention of retaining staff would save enough money on recruitment and agency costs to result in a net financial benefit.


6) An ambitious target is set for HR to complete the time to hire process, with the aim of streamlining the time taken between submitting an appointment form and agreeing a start date.


7) Line managers share opportunities/rights for flexible and agile working with those expressing an interest in working for Surrey County Council and with all staff when they join the workforce.


8) People and Change develop a consistent approach on visiting Surrey schools. Visitors should give verbal advice and distribute leaflets on the range of jobs and apprenticeship schemes on offer at Surrey County Council, making direct links with particular T-Levels, and consider mentoring sixth formers who elect these T-Levels.


9) The seven-day target for sickness absence rate (FTE days per employee) is reduced to the 2021/22 average of six days, bringing it closer to the April 2022 4.6 days average for all industries.


Becky Rush left at 11.58 am.

Supporting documents: