Research finds councils heavily relying on agency care staff

11 Apr 19

Local authorities in England spent £335m on agency care staff last financial year, according to research by The Guardian.

In 26 local authorities more than 30% of children’s social work staff came from agencies in the year to September 2018, according to Freedom of Information data obtained by the paper.

Councils spent a total of £335m on agency social workers in 2017-18 – down £25m from 2016-17 but still higher than the £342m total in 2015-16, according to the data from 129 local authorities. 

Ray Jones, former director of children’s services and an emeritus professor at Kingston University, told the newspaper that working conditions had deteriorated for social workers, making it difficult for councils to give vulnerable children and families consistent care through one carer.

“You’re paying more for a poorer services [with agency workers] because what you need in terms of children’s and adults social service is continuity – people who know the people they are working with, can build relationships with those families over time and know their history,” he told The Guardian.

Northamptonshire County Council - which recently announced it had set a balanced budget after issuing two section 141 notices (banning all non-statutory spend) – was the biggest spending on agency care staff last year. 

The council spent a total of £12m – which was a drop from £18.4m in 2016-17, according to The Guardian.

A spokesperson for Northamptonshire County Council said: “The reliance on agency staff is an issue faced by nearly all local authorities across the country, but here in Northamptonshire we have been working hard to create a more stable workforce with a greater proportion of permanent staff.

“We are constantly trying to drive down the use of agency workers in the county council, and since 2017 this has reduced by 23%.”

Correction made at 12pm on 12/04/19 : we have now corrected figures in paragraph three. The fall in spending is now £25m compared to £5m previously stated.

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