Andy Scate, director general for Infrastructure, Housing and Environment, told the panel that up to a quarter of roles within his department were vacant, with an even higher rate of unfilled positions in specialist areas such as its property division.
Frustration about the loss of key staff was echoed by Environment Minister John Young, who said he had voiced concerns to fellow ministers about a ‘perfect storm’ facing the Island in terms of recruitment.
Potential solutions mentioned at the hearing included considering whether a ‘market supplement’ could be added to salaries for particular roles, targeted recruitment drives for areas with good air links to Jersey and by recruiting school leavers who could be trained, Mr Scate told the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel.
He and Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis were asked by members of the panel about a failure to deliver a ministerial response, due by the end of February this year, to a report by the group about encroachment on the foreshore.
Mr Scate said: ‘There are recruitment tensions across all professional areas, whether it’s property, regulation or engineering.
‘The vacancy rates are 20% to 25% across IHE and are higher in property. We are struggling and we’ve not received the amount of applications we would have hoped.’
A dearth of applications from suitably qualified locals had come at the same time as challenges in attracting staff from outside the Island, Mr Scate added.
Deputy Young said there were significant difficulties in recruitment for both the public and private sectors.
‘This applies to many professional and technical roles – nursing, doctors, childcare and in private-sector areas like hospitality,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s really difficult everywhere and my concern is that this is building up to a perfect storm.’
Housing costs were cited as one of the biggest issues for recruiting staff by Deputy Young, who said prices had reached ‘ridiculous’ levels and were having a negative impact on the ability of professionals to make a reasonable living.
The Environment Minister added that two of the underlying factors behind the staffing crisis were the Covid-19 pandemic, which had created a backlog of work, and the reorganisation of the civil service under the government’s Target Operating Model.
‘The whole Target Operating Model approach has been done at totally the wrong time and had a major disrupting effect and caused the loss of key people,’ he said.
Deputy Young’s concerns were echoed by a former senior civil servant, who asked to remain anonymous, who said that ten years of pay restraint in Jersey had made the Island less attractive and caused a situation similar to the current shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.
‘If people are not paid enough and they are treated badly, then it’s not surprising if many of them choose to do their jobs elsewhere,’ he said.
The Scrutiny panel’s review of the Island’s foreshore policy, published in mid-January, criticised the government’s approach to encroachments there as fundamentally flawed and lacking in essential detail.
Jersey Property Holdings, which is part of the Infrastructure, Housing and Environment Department, took up responsibility for administering the foreshore after it was gifted to the people of Jersey by the Crown in 2015.
The administration of the foreshore has been contentious, with some landowners seeking to sell their properties receiving demands for compensation for encroachment previously deemed acceptable when the Crown was landowner.
Tim Daniels, director of JPH, said that communicating the details of a new policy with landowners had been challenging as a result of a shortage of staff within both his division and the Law Officers’ Department.
‘The lack of people means progress is slow. We are keen to get to the bottom of the matter but pressure of work coming out of Covid, and a number of other major projects, mean that at the moment we can’t prioritise the foreshore,’ he said.
St Saviour Constable Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard, a member of the panel, said it was wrong to blame the pandemic for the delay and that some landowners had faced a long period of uncertainty about whether they might be identified as having encroached.
‘People are living with Damocles’ sword hanging over them,’ she said.