Agency children’s social workers in London may no longer be able to command premium rates as 29 out of 33 councils have signed up to an agreement to cap their pay, in an effort to control council spending.
A report due to be presented today at the Greater London Employment Forum will set out the progress made so far by the London boroughs since agreeing to respond collaboratively to recruitment and retention issues in April 2015.
20% of the workforce
The report estimates that of around 1,300 children’s social work roles in London, at least 20% are occupied by agency social workers, and that the supply of workers will not meet demand until 2022.
The 29 councils have agreed to impose pay caps on agency social workers, effective from 1 January this year.
|Capped Hourly Rate per hour
|Newly Qualified Social Worker (post ASYE < 2 years’ experience)
|Social Worker (with 2 years+ PQE)
|Experienced SW (> 5 years)
|Senior SW (Senior Practitioner)
|Specialist / Advanced SW
|Assistant Team Manager (Practice Manager)
The agreement also includes subscribing to a shared referencing template so “low quality” agency social workers can be identified. The report says the boroughs will work together with agencies to agree a standard for pre-employment checks and referencing.
Considerable pressure has been placed on London boroughs’ budgets by costs associated with the children’s workforce, both from increasing numbers of agency staff and increasing pay to permanent staff, the report said.
Competing with each other
“London boroughs have responded to recruitment and retention difficulties by increasing their pay for permanent staff so as to compete with each other.
“Agency pay rates have also increased quickly as a result of keen competition between boroughs for scarce staffing resources,” the report added.
The report also highlighted the increasing issue of locum workers being encouraged by agencies to operate as limited companies in order to be taxed more favourably.
The memorandum of cooperation is not a legally binding agreement but a “statement of intent” by the collaborating boroughs to address key workforce issues affecting children’s social workers.
By signing up to the memorandum of cooperation, boroughs will also agree not to proactively headhunt staff, either agency or permanent, from other participating London boroughs.
The report’s author, deputy director of HR for the London Borough of Bexley, Nick Hollier, told Community Care growing competition to recruit staff across London had had the “unintended consequence” of creating a discrepancy between agency social workers’ level of skills and experience and the rates of pay they were able to command.
It had also created a gap between agency pay and the pay of permanent staff at similar skill levels.
He said he hoped the pay cap would allow councils to close this gap. The intention is to try and gradually lower the cap until it is in line with permanent staff pay.
“We recognise locums are a valuable part of the workforce but we want to bring the level of pay they enjoy closer in line with that of our permanent workforce.
“At first there was some scepticism from councils but as more and more signed up they were able to see that the memorandum doesn’t take away local decision-making.”
Chair of the Greater London Association of Directors of Children’s Services regional group, Helen Jenner, said despite only imposing the cap in September in her own borough of Barking and Dagenham, she had already seen an improvement in agency numbers.
“Our situation was so bad it is possible we have seen an earlier impact than in other areas,” Jenner added.
She said that being driven by market forces to pay significantly higher salaries to agency than permanent staff had encouraged higher turnover and instability in the workforce, which was bad for the families they worked with.
“Across London, directors felt unless we took control this was going to keep getting worse and worse.”
As well as capping agency rates, the participating London boroughs have also agreed to support their permanent staff by sharing good practice, developing shared training and career development programmes and implementing the Employer Standards.
Participating councils will also aim to develop “broadly comparable pay rates for permanent staff to minimise the impact of pay as an incentive to move between boroughs”, the report states.