Letter: An inspector's lot is not a happy one

Dear Sir. As a former member of the Planning Inspectorate it was with a mixture of sadness and concern that I read your article (see link below) reporting lengthening delays in the appeal process.

The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol
The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol

Sadness because we have been here before and concern because of the damage such delay causes to the reputation of what I recall as an organisation which then evoked respect and admiration from both its staff and the wider world.

The facts are clear from the article and there is no need for repetition, but the causes? The PINS Annual Report and Accounts for 2016/17 gives some clues. After noting that Government funding enabled both a permanent increase in Inspector numbers and a temporary increase to assist with the recovery in casework performance, it added "… due to higher than expected attrition rates and difficulties in recruiting at the appropriate level we recognised early in the year that we would be unable to fully utilise this budget."

Plainly, there was no lack of money available to improve matters, yet Inspectors were leaving at an unprecedented rate and the necessary quality of recruits could not be attracted. Why?

Might I suggest a couple of possible causes. Firstly, the Government imposed public sector pay freeze has, after several years of 1% maximum pay rises, resulted in unattractive starting salaries compared to those in the private sector, so why join in the first place? Secondly, despite the apparently long ranges of the advertised pay scales, former colleagues tell me that, once appointed, an Inspector can expect to sit on the same salary point for years. Progression no longer exists and promotion opportunities are few and far between. For someone who has joined PINS, whether recently or many years ago, why stay when in real terms your salary is steadily eroding?

We are therefore left with a situation where PINS cannot attract sufficient numbers of the necessarily high calibre recruits and at the same time is leaching experienced staff, disillusioned by empty promises, poor morale and declining real salaries. Incredibly, it returned almost £1mn to the Treasury in 2016/17, unable apparently to use it to rectify these problems. In these circumstances I am not at all surprised at lengthening delays to the appeal process which benefit nobody, least of all the Planning Inspectorate.

Inspectors are not mercenary, very far from it, but they are human and deserve salary scales, progression and promotion which acknowledge the increasing responsibilities and qualities necessary to undertake what is a lonely, difficult and complex job.

Yours faithfully

Richard Tamplin

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