The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed that it hired more new starters in 2017-18 than in the previous two years combined against a backdrop of pressure to deliver more new homes and building safety improvements after the Grenfell tragedy.
An analysis of the department’s own workforce data earlier this year pointed to a 17% growth in headcount year-on-year, but MHCLG’s just-published annual report provides extra detail on the expansion under way.
The department said it had taken on 586 new starters in the 12 months to April this year, resulting in a headcount increase of 312 full-time equivalent staff. In 2016-17 it recruited 268 new starters. At the same time it managed to reduce staff turnover from 10.7% in 2016-17 to 9.8% in 2017-18.
The report noted that during the year the scope and profile of MHCLG had “changed considerably”, not least because it was rebranded in January by prime minister Theresa May in a move designed to emphasise her government’s commitment to prioritise the nation’s housing crisis.
Although the period covered by the report ended before Sajid Javid was moved from the helm of MHCLG to the Home Office, and replaced by James Brokenshire, the department still underwent three changes of housing minister during the 12 months. Dominic Raab, who was appointed housing minister in January has since been promoted to Brexit secretary and replaced by Kit Malthouse, the fourth housing minister to serve under May.
“After several years of staff reductions, the priority work to address the issues highlighted by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the ever-increasing profile of housing as a key domestic priority have meant that we are expanding again,” the report said.
“We are increasing the capability of our corporate centre, particularly on digital, risk and commercial, to enable delivery and ensure appropriate and robust governance and oversight of our responsibilities.”
However, the report conceded that attracting and retaining the best capability would continue to be an important challenge, particularly in the context of a growing department.
In addition to dealing with the needs of the Grenfell survivors and the building standards issues that the tragedy exposed, the report also noted an ongoing inquiry into £36m wrongly paid out to councils participating in business rates retention pilots. In March a direction was issued to MHCLG perm sec Melanie Dawes from then housing secretary Sajid Javid to confirm the department would not seek to reclaim the funds.
The report said the March payments stemmed from an error in the methodology used to calculate the sums due to local authorities participating in the programmes.
“This money was not reclaimed by the department and a ministerial direction was issued in year,” it said.
“An independent review has been commissioned into the internal processes and procedures that underpin the department’s oversight of business rates and related systems.”
The cash went to 27 councils and the Greater London Authority and was the subject of a 20 March statement to parliament made by Javid, who said the review “should include modelling and analytical work, how officials manage the interface with policy decision making, and resourcing and skills”.
The report also said that the government’s long-term commitment to increase annual new-homes delivery to the 300,000 mark by the mid-2020s required the department to build capacity and capability across the construction sector so that new funding could be properly leveraged.