Council forks out £300k on temps

PUBLISHED: 12:30 29 August 2014

Archant

NORTH Somerset has a 'major problem' recruiting and retaining social workers, as it spent more than £300,000 on temporary cover in just six months - enough to pay for 10 full-time social workers for an entire year.

The council has spent £323,746 from January 1 to the beginning of July this year, compared to £370,870 for the whole of 2013-14.

North Somerset’s representative from public service union Unison, Helen Thornton, attributed the issues to a ‘major problem’ with recruiting and retaining staff.

She said: “Although North Somerset Council has been attempting to reduce its spend on social workers it has instead gone up.”

A spokesman for the authority said it is ‘successful’ in attracting new staff but admitted it has to compete with neighbouring authorities for the ‘best people’.

But Ms Thornton described the staffing issues as a ‘vicious cycle’.

She said: “We know from our members that the council find it difficult, there is a major problem with both recruiting and retaining staff, particularly in light of recent cuts.

“Staff are under a lot of pressure, this leads to staff leaving, or going off sick due to stress, adding to other social workers’ caseloads and starting a vicious cycle; the council has no choice but to hire agency staff to cover.

“The worrying thing is the cost, a lot of the money paid towards agency staff isn’t going to the staff themselves, it’s going to companies who are profiting from this.”

A council spokesman said: “There is a natural turnover of staff due to promotion to new 
jobs not on the frontline, for example following maternity leave and other family reasons.

“With a social worker workforce which is predominantly female, we are always going to need agency staff to cover maternity leave.

“We are successful at attracting new staff. There’s not a shortage of candidates for our posts but we do have to compete with neighbouring authorities for the best people.”

The council has just completed the recruitment process to fill eight vacancies currently covered by temporary social workers, but Ms Thornton is unsure this will solve the issues, and called for central government to do more.

She said: “What really needs to happen is that the central government funding cuts need to stop. It can’t go on like it is.

“If there is more staff and less pressure on those staff then you won’t have people leaving in their droves like they are now.”

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