Council vows to cut costly agency workers, whether permanent staff recruited or not

Windsor and Maidenhead Council sets deadline to curtail temporary staff with no guarantee of replacing them

Windsor under pressure Picture credit: Rex

Windsor and Maidenhead Council has pledged to cut down numbers of agency social workers it uses by September, even if permanent replacements have not been recruited.

In a finance report presented to the council’s cabinet, the borough outlined plans to reduce its reliance on temporary social workers to save money.

“The continued use of agency social workers and team managers in safeguarding, children in care and in practice improvements continues to put pressure on staffing budgets,” says the finance report, which was presented to the council in June. “If permanent staff are not appointed by September 2014, the number of agency social workers will be reduced following a risk assessment on holding those posts vacant.”

Despite the plan a council spokeswoman told Community Care that “while the strategy is to reduce the use of agency staff over time, we have no plans to leave caseloads uncovered or to increase caseloads”.

“We have been dependent on the use of a high number of agency staff in the past, although this situation is gradually improving,” she added. “We have been recruiting permanent staff on a regular basis since last October and we are currently arranging another round of interviews.”

Windsor has experienced a sharp rise in the use of costly temporary staff, which has seen the council footing a bill of £3m in 2013/14 compared to the £1.5m the year before.

The move follows a difficult 18 months for children’s social services in the borough, which was the subject of a damning serious case review following the death of baby Callum Wilson in March 2011.

Despite receiving an “adequate” Ofsted rating in 2012, local Unison secretary Alan Barwise said the situation at the council has “gone downhill rapidly since the inspectors were here”.

Unison expected an influx of members looking for representation after 11-month-old Callum Wilson’s death but the union found that 18 months on, not one of those social workers still worked there.

Barwise said he fears that the negative press and high cost of living in the area will put young social workers off looking for jobs in the area. “It’s a very expensive area to live,” he said. “If you are young, upwardly mobile and highly qualified you might be looking to be paid at a premium.”

Difficulties in recruiting permanent staff, combined with a reluctance from local government to continue funding high cost temporary staff, could put child protection services in a dangerous position, he believes.

“The situation now is the council is not going to support the £3m spend annually, which is understandable, and they may have to do that whether we have recruited permanent staff or not,” Barwise said.

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