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Audit Wales reveals issues with workforce impacting on Powys planning services

Audit Wales Powys Planning Report

HIGH staff turnover, disjointed team meetings, poor communication and a lack of formal training are negatively impacting Powys County Council’s planning service, Audit Wales have said.

Audit Wales is an organisation whose purpose is to assure and explain to the people of Wales that how public money is being used and that it’s managed well published a critical report on the council’s planning service.

They have provided a list of nine recommendations that they expect the authority to address over the next year.

The review took place last year.

The report explains that in 2021 the planning department reviewed itself following staff restructuring that had taken place in 2019 and 2020.

Audit Wales said: “The planning service is experiencing a high turnover of staff which creates instability and increased workloads for the remaining officers.

“The restructure and review failed to tackle the fundamental issues in governance and workforce to sustainably improve its performance.

“The main reasons for the restructure were to address savings targets.

“We were told that a number of experienced planning officers left the service as an impact of the restructure.

“Many of the new planners that joined the service at that time have also subsequently left. ”

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Audit Wales said that the council is “missing vital insights” by not understanding why these planning officers have left Powys.

Audit Wales have also pointed out that staff are working in “siloes” and that team meetings and communication within the department are “underdeveloped”.

Audit Wales said:  “The lead professional for planning meets with the principal planning officers.

“The principal planning officers meet with their senior planning officers who, in turn, will meet with the planners.

“Planning policy officers meet separately.

“The impact of this means the whole team are not sighted of and discussing challenges facing the service.

“It is concerning that the service does not already have regular team meetings that incorporate learning and the sharing of planning knowledge.

“It is the responsibility of the planning service to have effective and ongoing training and support for its officers to avoid the need to change decisions and for officers, particularly new officers, to feel supported in their roles.”

Audit Wales conclude that Powys would benefit from contacting other planning authorities in Wales to: “learn from practice elsewhere.”

In response to feedback from Audit Wales the council has set up a service improvement board to address the issues raised in the report.

Cabinet member for a connected Powys which includes the planning portfolio, Liberal Democrat Cllr Jake Berriman said: “We full accept the findings of this review.

“I am completely committed to using this report to help put things right and to work towards having one of the most highly regarded planning services in Wales.”