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Council spent £9m on temporary staff in two years

Authority says its use of 108 agencies last year was "excessive"

John Herring

John Herring


01635 886633

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WEST Berkshire Council has spent £9m on temporary staff over the past two years.

The cash-strapped local authority said it is now looking to cut down on its “excessive” use of agency workers.

However, the council’s leader, Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn Valley) said that the amount, just under the £10m the council needed to save last year, was “not that high” and had been budgeted for. 

The figures came to light following a Freedom of Information request by the NWN.

It shows that the council spent £4,448,805 on agency staff in 2016/17, rising to £4,967,569 in 2017/18 – amounting to £9,416,374 over the two-year period. 

Adult social care saw the highest spend of £5.1m – rising from £2,285,723 in the first year to £2,837,266 in the second.

This was followed by children’s and family services [which decreased from £1,215,475 to £1,001,154].  

The council said it was not possible to provide the exact number of agency staff used during the two years, as the only way to determine this was to manually check individual invoices in each year.

However, it said that 13,817 invoices were raised between April 2016 and March 2018 –  dropping year-on-year from 5,863 in 2016 to 2,724 in 2018.

Mr Jones said that West Berkshire’s £9m spend was “significantly lower” than neighbouring Reading Borough Council, which spent £13.7m in 2016/17, or Wokingham, which spent £12.5m over two years.

Mr Jones said that agency staff were “being used to fill permanent staff vacancies that we are in the process of trying to recruit.

“As such, this spend is not additional staffing spend as it is drawn from planned staffing expenditure in our set revenue budget,” he added.

Mr Jones said that in “some cases using agency staff is necessary to maintain frontline services, particularly in social care where we must always maintain sufficient levels of cover”.

He added: “It is in this area that most of our spend takes place as care is a competitive market and occasionally using agency staff is the only option.

“This is not an issue unique to West Berkshire, or local government, as I understand that the NHS is experiencing similar challenges.

“From time to time, we also use agency staff for short-term, urgent or specific assignments.

“An example of this is our Better Care Fund Project, a time-limited project which sought to deliver more integrated approaches to social care.

“Of course, in other cases we leave posts vacant to deliver savings where that is needed.”

In the same two-year period the council laid off 65 staff, resulting in the local authority spending £769,369.65 in severance payments. 

Most notably, 11 adult social care employees, nine from children and family services and 13 from education services were made redundant over the two-year period. 

Council documents also show the local authority used 108 agencies last year, with adult social care using 46 different agencies and children and family services 32.  Of the 78 agencies used, only 11 were used by both services.

The council currently contracts with employment agency company Reed for general administrative roles, but discussions revealed that council recruiting managers were not aware of the contract and had been making their own arrangements with other agencies.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jeff Brooks (Thatcham West), who has a background in recruitment, said that while the spend did not seem excessively high, measures could be implemented to reduce costs.

He said: “It’s all well using temporary workers, but you have to buy them in an efficient way.

“The flaw in their [the council’s] way of working is the way they purchase. They are therefore spending more than they need to.

“They have spent more than they needed to because they don’t have compliant purchasing.

“That’s the flaw, it’s been the flaw for years.”

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Article comments

  • NoisyNortherner

    10/09/2018 - 15:03

    The idea behind contracting is to allow an organisation to be flexible with regards to the workload that they deal with. Where it falls down dramatically is in situations where contractors are used for extended periods of time, as they are generally more expensive than employing an additional head full time.