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Engineer shortage plunges local government into crisis

LOCAL AUTHORITIES are facing such a crisis in civil engineering recruitment that the municipal engineering profession could be extinct within five years.

This is the stark warning from senior municipal engineers who this week added their voice to calls for the government to deal with a growing crisis in public service recruitment.

They warned that many of the most senior local authority engineers are due to retire this year, to be replaced by non-engineers.

Retiring and departing senior civil engineers at the head of local authority environment directorates include John Saunders at Essex County Council, Douglas Pigg at South Tyneside and John Ekins at Hampshire County Council. All are due to leave their jobs by the end of the year.

Ekins, the UK's last existing county surveyor, is soon to be replaced by a transport planner.

He said that the old guard will not be replaced by civil engineers because so many have left to work for consultants.

'We are teetering on the edge of a mass exodus of municipal engineers to consultants, ' he said.

Essex County Council has even taken on people with biology degrees to work on road maintenance, said Saunders.

Lack of junior engineers and technicians especially in areas such as traffic calming is the worst problem at present said David Harvey, president of the county surveyors body, CSS.

The extinction of in house engineering teams could have a serious impact on the quality and price of local authority infrastructure projects.

Without engineers, there will be no one with the technical knowledge to monitor the quality and value of work which will increasingly be carried out by consultants, said Ekins.

'Councils face greater dependence on the private sector but will not have the core of engineers in house to understand what's going on, ' he said.

'There is great concern that politicians will be making decisions without impartial advice.'

'Red tape' was recently cited by the Audit Commission as the main reason for a widespread exodus of local authority staff.

Ekins said that the government's Best Value rules had increased the 'hassle factor' to such an extent that municipal engineers' jobs had become 'pointlessly bureaucratic'.

Under Best Value, bids for local authority contracts are appraised by a wider set of performance indicators than lowest price.

INFOPLUS

www. audit-commission. gov. uk

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