Friday, 22 February 2013

West Briton raises concern over Cornwall's use of agency social workers

A story in the West Briton this week makes disturbing reading about the way in which agency staff are employed by Cornwall Council as social workers.

The article, which is based on a freedom of information request, claims that there are large scale vacancies for social workers in Cornwall and that many agency staff are used to cover the gaps. The cost of agency staff can be double that of a full-time Cornwall employee.

Quite rightly, Cornwall Council is taking action to make sure that there are always enough social workers to undertake the responsibilities of the authority. They also say that there is an on-going recruitment exercise in place to fill vacancies.

But the cost of agency staff has ballooned so much in recent years. In March 2011 we were told by the then Conservative leadership that the cost for all agency staff and consultants was £750,000 per month and that this was too high. Now the total cost is around £1.1 million per month.

When I have pressed on the cost of consultants and agency staff I was told that it was often a more cost effective way of employing staff.

But whilst I can see how having flexibility of staff numbers in some areas can be beneficial and cost effective, I don’t see how paying double for staff we will always need can be described in this way.

This is not a matter of cutting jobs. There is a need for a full complement of adult and children’s services social work staff. But it would be much more cost effective for the council to make these staff permanent than to carry on using such huge numbers of agency workers.

In our budget amendment, Liberal Democrats are seeking a cut of around 25% in the amount spent on consultants and agency staff. We know that we cannot afford to have vital front line services left uncovered and so there will need to be some agency workers employed in social work for some time to come, as well as the call centre. But the directors of these services should be asked to come up with a plan to reduce the reliance on agency staff and thereby reduce the overall cost to the authority.

No comments: