Councils throughout the UK have slashed their use of agency social workers, Community Care can reveal.
Our third annual freedom of information investigation into the use of agency social workers found that, on average, 7% of local authority social work teams in the UK were made up of agency staff as of 1 July 2011, compared with 10% last year.
Use our interactive map to find out how many agency social workers are employed in your authority
London still has the highest agency rate at 13%, down from 20% last year. Scotland appears to have the lowest at just 0.4%, down from 5% last year.
The overall fall in the use of agency staff was to be expected, said John Nawrockyi, secretary of the Association of Directors of Adult Services’ workforce development network and director of adults and older people’s services at Greenwich Council, London.
“The economic downturn has led to more stability in the workforce; hence there is less need for temporary cover,” he said. “It is also possible that, as in my council, agency staff are more likely to be encouraged to accept permanent jobs.”
He added that it was no surprise the rate was considerably higher in London, where the workforce was more mobile.
Asked whether the impending introduction of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 on 1 October was having an effect on councils’ use of agency staff, Nawrockyi said: “The new regulations will reinforce the pressure to avoid reliance on agency staff, because they will accumulate employment rights, such as annual leave and redundancy more quickly.”
Jonathan Coxon, managing director of social work recruitment agency Liquid Personnel, said the figures were consistent with his experiences.
“We have seen a slight decrease in the number of agency roles,” he said, adding: “However, I’m surprised that the vacancy rate has fallen and feel some councils may have been forced to shrink their teams in light of the cuts.”
He said the new regulations for agency staff may dissuade some employers from taking them on, particularly for lower skilled, lower paid casual roles. But he added: “The fact is they will have little impact on professional social workers, as their rates of pay are at least comparable with their permanent counterparts.”
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said the reduced reliance on agency staff was not surprising, but said an average overall rate of 7% was still too high.
“There are still too many employers who look to plug gaps with agency staff rather than address the underlying issues of workload, working conditions and high quality supervision,” she said. “Agency staffing is expensive and can create problems with continuity for service users.”
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