Unison: Conservatives partly to blame for social work vacancies

Unison has lashed out at Tory “whingeing” over the recruitment crisis in social work departments after the party raised concerns over vacancy rates.

The union’s response yesterday came as Conservative shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton blamed excessive bureaucracy and low morale for a 30% rise in social work vacancy rates since 2005.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the Conservatives, who control 54% of the councils in England and Wales, held the answer to the problem. The Conservatives run 216 councils in total, compared with 104 with no overall control, 48 Labour and 27 Liberal Democrat.

Prentis said that the party could start by resolving the local government pay dispute, which has been rumbling along since April last year. He added: “The Tories could also pay more to recruit and retain social workers and other key council staff if they had the political will to do so.

“Why don’t they just get on with the job and stop wasting public funds asking their friends in local government for answers to questions they should already know.”

Vacancy rate leap

Figures obtained by the Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act showed that that the national vacancy rate in social work has jumped by nearly a third to 14% since 2005, with many authorities admitting a far higher rate. In a list of the 52 authorities that provided information, Hackney topped the league with a vacancy rate of 38.9% and Manchester City Council came second with 34.3%. Six London boroughs were in the top 10.

Unison’s own report on recruitment and retention problems, which also criticised the time spent by social workers on paperwork, was launched last month. It found that 60% of social work members were based in teams with a vacancy rate of over 20%.

The Conservatives also this week submitted their response to the Lord Laming Inquiry on child protection set up in the wake of the Baby P case.

The report, which was drafted by the party’s Commission on Social Workers, calls for a wide range of measures including abolishing the ContactPoint national database of children’s details and setting up the post of chief social worker in departments across the UK.

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