COVID-19 Workforce Survey, week ending 7 May 2021

This report is part of a series of monthly surveys of all councils in England and Wales collecting key workforce data on how the sector is responding to COVID-19.


This report is part of a series of monthly surveys of all councils in England and Wales collecting key workforce data on how the sector is responding to COVID-19. An online survey is emailed to heads of human resources, or a nominated contact, in councils from England and Wales on the second Wednesday of the month. The data requested relates to the week ending the preceding Friday. The intention is that this collection is the single national source through which such data is gathered, and it will, as appropriate, be shared with government departments and others in addition to providing comparator information for councils.

This report relates to the survey sent out on 12 May 2021 and covers the week ending 7 May 2021. The overall response rate was 54 per cent and covered around a third of the total workforce.

Key findings

  • Some 38 per cent of councils reported recruiting additional staff (of any type including casual, agency, contingent, etc) in the week ending 7 May 2021. In total 1,533 additional staff had been recruited in responding authorities: the median number of staff per authority was three and the mean was 18.
  • Over two-thirds of responding councils (137 respondents) had recorded deaths in service since lockdown. A total of 715 deaths in service were reported by respondents since the start of lockdown (cause not specified).
  • Twenty-four per cent of councils reported that they had furloughed at least one member of staff. In total, responding authorities reported there were 3,938 staff furloughed in the week ending 7 May 2021, which was 0.8 per cent of the current workforce
  • The main reason given for furloughing staff was that the service had stopped (59 per cent) or that funding had stopped (33 per cent).
  • Some 50 per cent of councils had redeployed staff. In total, in the responding authorities, there were 3,112 staff redeployed in the week ending 7 May 2021, which was one per cent of the current workforce. The median number of staff redeployed was zero and the mean was 18.
  • Just over four out of five councils (81 per cent) reported that they had at least one member of staff unavailable for work. In total, respondents reported there were 20,286 staff unavailable for work in the week ending 7 May 2021, four per cent of the current workforce. The median number of staff unavailable for work was 24 and the mean was 111. • Sixty-eight per cent of staff were unavailable due to ‘non-COVID sickness’ and seven per cent were unavailable through ‘self-isolation (other)’.
  • When asked whether individual services had enough staff to run them normally or not, the worst affected service was public health, with nine per cent of councils with this service reporting they were operating with severe disruption due to staffing numbers. A further 17 per cent reported that public health services were operating with moderate disruption.
  • When asked to assess the council overall, in terms of whether there are enough staff to run services normally or not, 53 per cent of councils reported they were not operating normally.
  • Councils were asked about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing for staff. Ninety-nine per cent reported they had about the right amount of PPE or more than they need. Ninety-one per cent said all the staff who need testing can access it.
  •  Looking ahead, councils were asked if they were experiencing significant difficulties recruiting for some posts or not: 167 (87 per cent) said they were. Councils were subsequently asked to choose from a list of specialist occupations where they were experiencing difficulties: 93 per cent of county councils experiencing problems were having difficulties recruiting children’s social workers.
  • In district councils, 49 per cent of those with recruitment difficulties said they were having problems recruiting planning officers and 38 per cent said they were having problems recruiting environmental health officers.
  • Councils were asked to choose the five occupations or roles where recruitment difficulties were most acute. Again, all respondent county councils reported that they had acute difficulties recruiting children’s social workers.
  • Out of the councils who had said they had acute difficulties in recruiting children’s social workers, 45 per cent said they had both difficulty recruiting generally and difficulty recruiting the required expertise, experience or qualification.
  • Councils were asked if they were likely to recruit additional staff specifically in response to COVID-19 and/or the EU transition or not. Of the 193 councils who responded to the question, 31 per cent said they were likely recruit additional staff in response to COVID-19, while 42 per cent said they were not likely to recruit additional staff at all. Twenty-four per cent of respondents said they did not know.
  • Councils were asked to think about what they were considering doing with staffing in the current financial year. Twenty per cent of those that answered this question said that they were thinking of reducing staff numbers overall in 2021/22. Thirty-eight per cent of those that answered this question said they were thinking to increase apprenticeships in 2021/22.
publication cover - COVID-19 Workforce Survey Research Report week ending 5 March 2021
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