Council offers record £15k bonus to children’s social workers

West Berkshire said the reward for more than three years' service would help to create a stable workforce

West Berkshire has offered a record £15k bonus to children’s social workers who stay with the council for more than three years, following an inadequate Ofsted judgement.

Rachael Wardell, director of both children’s and adults’ services, said the unprecedented bonus was an attempt to avoid a “price war” with neighbouring authorities.

Pay inflation

“We could have fuelled pay inflation by trying to raise our upfront salary to match some of our competitors, or we could do something a bit more imaginative,” she said.

West Berkshire is also offering three months’ paid sabbatical to social workers who have been with the council for more than three years, as well as clinical supervision and free parking.

The council is the lowest paying in Berkshire. Wardell said higher basic salaries were considered but she concluded a bonus was tied more strongly to the desired outcome of attracting social workers who are committed to building relationships with children and families.

Stable workforce

“What we knew was, if your basic pay offer goes up, other authorities match it and that doesn’t have a stabilising effect. It just spirals out of control.”

She added that a stable workforce was what children and families said they wanted from their social worker via complaints, independent reviewing officers’ reports and core group meetings.

Keeping talented people in

“Higher starting salaries are attractive but if we want to not just get people in, but keep talented people on, we need to think a little differently.

“Three years is a long time to lock someone in so we knew to make that really attractive it had to be quite a significant sum of money.”

Wardell said the council had not lost a single social worker since the inadequate Ofsted judgement, with everyone covered by the package being retained.

“It’s unusual for a council, after a bad Ofsted judgement, to not only not lose staff but also see their agency bill go down,” Wardell said.

“I can’t say for sure the retention package is why, but it is the only obviously different thing we’ve done and this outcome is certainly encouraging.”

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10 Responses to Council offers record £15k bonus to children’s social workers

  1. Dan November 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m always puzzled by things like this.

    There is a simple answer to worker retention… Treat your staff like you expect them to treat the people they work with.

    Also consider…
    1. Employing enough workers to do the job that is expected, in line with their registration.
    2. Getting rid of agile working and hot desking, bringing teams back together.
    3. Give people supportive and reflective supervision, to improve practice.
    4. Paying workers the going rate, that they deserve.
    5. Having access to appropriate training to keep them a skilled workforce.


    • Ian November 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

      Well said Dan. It isnt rocket science yet they choose to not listen to their workforce……inability to retain is a form of communication……..offering to top up wages after three years of earning less than others is not the answer.

  2. DaveR November 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    Whilst interesting as a concept, if the wage disparity with neighbouring local authorities is more than £5k less per year then the financial package doesn’t make sense?

  3. Tom November 12, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    Good responses from Dan and Ian. I believe great mantras foo retention are;
    1.Access to highly skilled managerial support.
    2. Manageable case load.
    3. Financial incentives.
    Only we social workers can champion our own causes.

  4. Dan November 12, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks Tom. I agree, a manageable caseload is a must.

    It would require more research to prove, but I would estimate that it takes around six months for a team to recover from a social worker leaving, meaning that if 2 workers leave in a year, that is the equivalent of losing a worker for a whole year. Just like when someone goes on maternity leave and they’re not replaced. How can this make sense? There is the same amount of work, just less workers to do it, which adds additional pressure to the remaining workforce.

    • Tom November 13, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

      Yes Dan your observation is 100 % right because this sort of damaging turn over would lead to inefficiency in terms of management of cases,which would in turn have some serious implications for the families and children we are working with,making them increasigly vulnerable. Hence a stable social work force coupled with a good retention policy shall be at the top agenda for all local authorities. I believe retention should receive more priority than recruitment because the latter is easily achievable.

    • delia November 16, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

      I work in Haringey and staff are leaving in teams. The impact of stable groups of SWs leaving together is unquantifiable.

  5. Sean Ferrer November 12, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    I have worked with many local authorities for over 15 years as a recruitment-marketing specialist. I find this so-called initiative by West Berkshire, above all, distasteful. However this golden handcuff is presented, I feel it does no justice whatever to the hard work and motivation of children’s social workers; rather it creates the impression that professionals in our sector are easily manipulated commodities.

    I worked with London Borough of Barnet some years ago, with the specific task of reducing their reliance upon agency workers, which at that time stood at around 35%. Through professional marketing knowhow, a distinctive recruitment campaign, and skilful management of staffing issues, we reduced that headline figure to less than four percent in under two years.

    Elsewhere, where I have seen punitive management styles dominate, and witnessed social work colleagues suffer breakdowns thanks to impossibly high caseloads and inept management; no amount of money could have rescued the situation. This article speaks volumes about the way a department is being managed if staff have to be bribed to stay.

  6. Andrea November 15, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Succinctly put Dan. DaveR – good point.

    Question – what happens after the 3 years – mass exodus? ahh! but of course Ms Wardell will have left with the kudos of having achieved a stable workforce during her reign, leaving the wheel to turn again! As Ian says ‘they chose to not listen to their workforce’

  7. Graham November 18, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Sounds like a great idea to me. Coming up to my 9th year with my current employer I would have made £45k by now!
    More seriously I think social workers really need to show the same dogged determination to fight for their own working conditions as they do when fighting for the rights of service users. It often seems that we are lions when advocating for clients but shrinking violets when it comes to promoting our own health and safety.
    Collective action works to avoid bullying and intimidation from management and for the demise of trade union power and influence we have only ourselves to blame (and Margaret Thatcher of course).