Council calls for action to tackle key worker crisis

Berkshire Fire and Rescue Brigade is having to employ firefighters who live
in Durham, Merseyside and Norfolk because of spiralling house prices.

Firefighters in Reading are struggling to afford the £120,000 it costs to
buy a three-bed terraced house – most earn just over £20,000 – and the service
has had to recruit from all over the UK to fill skills shortages.

Speaking at the conference, the chief executive of Reading Borough Council
said house prices have been driven up by an influx of high-earning IT
professionals working for the software giants along the M4 corridor.

Joyce Markham said a third of the county’s firefighters live outside the
area. Shifts have been rearranged to allow staff who commute longer shifts.

This gives them longer periods off work.

Markham warned that other public services are also under severe strain
because they are struggling to recruit key workers. Public transport is close
to collapse in the region because local bus companies cannot recruit enough
drivers, she said.

In other professions, such as teaching, social work and occupational
therapy, job applications are so low that 50 per cent of job vacancies have
been re-advertised – at a cost of around £2,000 a time.

When applicants who withdrew their applications mid-way through the process
were asked why, transport and housing costs were the main reasons.

Staff turnover is also a problem, running at 23 per cent for teachers and 45
per cent in social work and occupational therapy.

Markham urged employers and the Government to address the problem, claiming
that local authorities need to be able to provide suitable mortgages for their
employees.

"Employers need to realise that if they don’t put anything back in,
then they may not have cleaners or electricians," she said at the Guardian
conference on key workers in London.

By Quentin Reade

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