Councils to create agency to supply their own temporary social workers

Northamptonshire is among a group of councils that are planning to take on private recruitment agencies

Paul Blantern, chief executive of Northamptonshire Council

Northamptonshire is in talks with two other local authorities about forming a recruitment agency to supply their children’s social care services with locum social workers.

Paul Blantern, chief executive of Northamptonshire Council, said the move is a response to the growing numbers of experienced social workers moving into agency work.

“There’s been a significant change in the national social work market. The workforce is choosing to go into the agency model because the security of job issue isn’t there because there is so much demand for experienced social workers and they can get significantly more take-home pay,” Blantern told Community Care.

At present 47% of social workers in Northamptonshire’s inadequate-rated children’s services are agency workers.

Blantern said the shift to temporary social workers means councils are not only paying a higher day rate but are also having to pay a further 20% in fees to recruitment agencies.

“So we thought about setting up our own agency where, in essence, we are not charging ourselves the 20% fee but we would still treat people who want to work in an agency workforce in the same way,” he said.

“What we are trying to get to is to accepting that there is now a multiplicity of ways of employing a stable and able workforce and that’s not necessarily an employed workforce.”

A council-run agency could also offer additional incentives to attract social workers away from other agencies, he added.

“For example if you come in via ours it might be that we offer training, but if you come in through an external agency we might not provide training because we are going to use you for a much shorter term because we’re paying an extra 20%.”

At the moment the councils involved are examining the legal issues around creating the agency but, added Blantern, “it’s definitely going to happen”.

Social work academy

Northamptonshire has also set up a social work academy with the University of Northampton in a bid to fast track newly qualified social workers into more experienced roles through a year-long programme of intensive training and support.

“In essence they will be shadowing very experienced people who actually work on caseloads and we’ll be gradually building up their cases,” he said.

Blantern added that the academy, which will take in a cohort of 16 newly qualified social workers every six months, is also designed to play a key role in helping fix the problems within the council’s children’s social services.

“There is a question about how do you get that collective cultural change in how we do social work in Northamptonshire because we are inadequate and, although we are making massive strides, we need quite a change because a lot of the cultural practices build up,” he said.

“The great thing about having an academy is that if you are sending everyone through a very similar process you can start to instill that this is the way we do social work in Northamptonshire.”

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One Response to Councils to create agency to supply their own temporary social workers

  1. Charlotte July 21, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    Creating an ‘in house’ recruitment agency seems like an innovative solution to staffing problems in this one area of the country, but it is surely still feeding into the national recruitment problem. What is needed is a nationwide shift; The high percentage of agency is all about supply and demand. Experienced social workers are in demand, since most councils won’t employ ‘less experienced’ NQSWs, so they move into agency where they can demand a premium. This is understandable- who wouldn’t want to maximise their income? But the result is numerous council vacancies which can only be filled by agency social workers, since no one else can ever get enough experience! And so the cycle continues.

    However, ‘experience’ does not automatically equal ‘quality’. Surely the answer is for local authorities to be employing more NQSWs, investing the ‘premium’ which they are currently paying out on agency fee’s -into a programme of training and support (like the ‘academies’). Ultimately, this would break the supply/demand cycle, leading to less costs, a more stable workforce, better quality and committed workers and improved career prospects for NQSW’s.