THE failure to retain staff in the borough’s planning department has been partly blamed on ‘underpaid’ officers being tempted by ‘far more attractive’ pay packets elsewhere.

David Boyer, the council’s operational director of environment and transport, delivered an update on planning issues to councillors during Wednesday’s scrutiny committee meeting.

Mr Boyer’s key responsibilities include development management, building control and highways.

Colin Walker, who had been the development control manager for two years, left the authority in December.

The issue has been one of many Mr Boyer has been dealing with since taking on his role in November.

However, he confirmed a range of recruits are set to be brought into the planning department.

He said: “Planning has gone through a lot of change, both nationally and locally.

“For planning professionals there is lot of demand in the marketplace but there has not necessarily been training and development of young professionals.

“I think another impact we have had is there has been wage suppression in a lot of local government.

“I think another problem we have had is there are far more attractive packages elsewhere and we have lost staff unfortunately, a lot of quality staff, due to that.

“We are all aware too that the development manager left post at the end of December, which has obviously been another issue I have been dealing with.

“My chief priority has been getting to a position where we start recruitment and I am virtually there now.”

But despite the pressures facing the council, Mr Boyer insists it is a ‘good organisation to work for’.

He said: “We have a lot of interesting work and I think we have supported our staff through austerity, we have managed to protect them.

“I think if we can end up with some really good staff, who actually want to work here for a period – I think we will really bring on some improvements.”

Former council leader Cllr Ian Marks pressed Mr Boyer over why the authority has struggled to retain staff in the planning department.

He asked: “Why has it been so difficult? Something must have not been right about Warrington.”

Mr Boyer acknowledged Cllr Marks’ concerns and admitted the borough has ‘suffered’.

He added: “I think one of the big problems we have had for a couple of years is a lot of staff vacancies and that has led to a lot of pressure.

“A lot of that has been covered by temporary staff, which is not always ideal.

“We are looking at capacity improvements.

“At times, I don’t think we have had enough planners with the right, necessary skills on the ground.

“But we have a lot of good staff still in there – we have a really good core of permanent staff in there.

“When I started looking at some of the grades that some of our planning staff were paid and looked at that benchmark, I think we have been underpaying our planners.

“I think it has been a very competitive market – if people can get a better salary elsewhere, they are going to look at that.”