Parking and pay disparities help increase agency spend, council finds

Analysis finds bonus payments to children’s social workers have increased poor retention among social workers in adults' services

An English council has discovered that paying children’s social workers a retention bonus payment has made it harder to fill some key social work posts in adults’ services.

It also found that poor facilities for parking was one of the top factors prompting social workers to look elsewhere for work.

A study by Luton council found its reliance on temporary staff was worse in adults’ services – where almost one in three social workers were locum – than children’s services, where just over one in four social workers were locums.

As part of its research, the council surveyed all social workers and found that, on top of well-documented disparities between agency and permanent workers’ hourly rates, there was significant dissatisfaction over the pay offered to adults’ social workers, compared to children’s services, where social workers can gain several thousand pounds more a year because of generous retention bonuses.

Increasing spend on agency staff

“Several agency staff for hard to fill [adult] posts have indicated that they would apply for permanent posts if the retention allowance was better,” said one respondent.

Luton’s spend on agency staff has been increasing over recent years and for 2016-17 it currently takes up 32% of its children’s social work staffing budget and 47% of its staffing budget for adults’ social work services.

The council has set itself a target to reduce this to between 20-25% by the end of 2017-18.

The study also revealed agency social workers cost the council at least £15,000 more each year than employing a permanent social worker.

Seven key ‘push’ factors

Factoring in agency costs and hourly rates set under the East region memorandum of understanding, the group estimated that each agency children’s social worker has been costing the council £55,341, against £40,001 for a permanent staff member. For a senior practitioner, the figures are £63,525 for a locum against £44,932 for a directly employed individual.

But hard cash wasn’t the only issue identified by study, with seven key ‘push’ factors highlighted. While these included perennial sources of pain, such as high caseloads, a sense of being undervalued and being made to hotdesk, it also included poor parking facilities as a major issue for social workers.

A third of survey respondents described parking problems as a key reason why they might leave the council. “LBC [Luton Borough Council] does not appreciate [our] difficult work… and [should] be able to provide appropriate safe parking spaces,” one worker commented.


Accordingly, a task and finish group set up by the council has made a review of parking arrangements for social workers (as well as social care assessors, occupational therapists, community nurses and other related roles) one of its 12 key recommendations. Others included:

  • Implementing a new exit survey protocol in order to gain a deeper understanding of why social workers and other social care professionals choose to leave their jobs.
  • Undertaking a full review of the benefits packages on offer to social care staff, in order to make Luton a more attractive place to work relative to other authorities in the East region.
  • Carrying out another review to gauge the nature of staff dissatisfaction with their working environment.
  • Seeking to make the most of the opportunity offered by recent tax changes, which mean agency staff take-home pay will be lower than it used to be, to entice locums into permanent jobs.

The report will be presented to the authority’s executive committee later this month where the recommendations will be considered.

Dr Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said providing split incentives within the same authority, at a time when core salaries had been static for a number of years, forced social workers to focus career decisions around short-term financial benefits rather than the development of skills over a longer term.

She said while she welcomed some of the recommendations proposed by Luton’s task and finish report she hoped they would also focus on longer term solutions.

“We urgently need career pathways in social work with adults to become more attractive and recognised for their specialist, important skill and knowledge base. I hope councils also take a longer term and more thoughtful approach to building an excellent, stable and motivated, well trained workforce of social workers with adults that knows the local population well – and recognise the relationship between what they do and what children’s social workers deal with,” she said.

Heather Wakefield, head of local government for Unison, pointed out that social workers, as part of the local government workforce, had seen pay fall by over 20% since 2010 as well as poorer working conditions, such as having to pay car parking charges and cuts in car allowances.

“Luton’s problems exemplify the downside of relying on agency workers, which is the consequence of the long-term undervaluing of social workers. Pay is only one factor in social workers’ reluctance to commit to permanent employment. A growing admin burden, lack of decent office space and inadequate supervision are also taking their toll.”

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11 Responses to Parking and pay disparities help increase agency spend, council finds

  1. John Simpson April 13, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    Surely the whole point of ‘retention bonuses’ was to attract social workers into those posts – where did Luton think these social workers would come from? The magic social worker tree? The financial incentive was a pull factor for local social workers!

    It is fully understandable that because of the forced pay freeze, good social workers can practically avoid this cap of 1% by simply moving authorities and negotiating with the new LA. As there is a shortage of social workers available, all this will do is drive up salaries (which is a good thing for social workers!). If local authority’s haven’t grasped this simply fact, then don’t be surprised by the current flux of social workers moving around to improve their situation.

    It is of no great surprise that council’s that look to save money on cutting benefits to social work staff (i.e. staff, mileage allowance, essential user payments) simply end up paying huge sums to cover the vacancies they themselves have created by their own actions! It also good to see senior managers completely misunderstand the consequential impact of minor changes that irritate and annoy their staff. As there are many other option available for staff, why would you stay where the employer thinks it is OK to treat you in such a fashion? The more people vote with their feet, the reality might dawn on local authorities (and external agencies) that the staff team are the glue that holds he services together. If you don’t treat people fairly and with respect, other will happily take them off your hands.

    Just look at Northamptonshire, cut benefits to staff and the resultant exodus of staff is now costing them? £46 million pounds! (see: Well done Northamptonshire (Requires improvement – Ofsted – Oh yes it does!)

    Not sure how much Luton currently spends on agency staff but anyone can make a FOI request to find out how much poor management costs.

  2. The simple solution i April 13, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    The simple solution is to radically cut back on social services spending by authories (50% cut)whilst reducing even further the responsibilities of social workers only to the most extreme situations (75% cut). The taxpayers are sick to death of this grave train in our own back yard.less responsibilities would mean less stress for everyone.

    • Richard A April 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

      Re Simple Solution

      Interesting proposition. Can you please expand on what you mean by ‘the most extreme situations’

    • Andrea April 18, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

      was ‘grave train’ a Freudian slip…?

  3. Andrea April 13, 2017 at 8:50 pm #

    I am so tired of the agency worker criticisms – they don’t have the security or the perks of permanent workers – get an actuary to do the calculations – you’ll discover that the difference is minimal.
    Stop complaining and go temp – oh wait………………no maternity leave/ holiday pay/ sick pay/ bank holiday pay/ paid compassionate leave/ child care leave etc etc
    Good to see colleagues are attacking one another – beyond tedious.

    • Efia April 19, 2017 at 7:30 pm #

      Well said Andrea. We work as harder and sometimes get the cases no one wants.

  4. Petra April 18, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    I’m tired of the critisms as well. The pay above is a rubbish statement and untrue..also as of April it’s more on par with perm pay . Yes it’s abit more but that only covers our sick and holiday. Locum get so much discrimination from some workers and it’s not acceptable !

    Parking issue question which was the original question… yes I would leave if I had to pay to park or had troubles parking.

  5. Petra April 18, 2017 at 8:06 pm #

    To add… exit questionnaires ?? and I’ve seen loads of these in my time. They get filed and forgotten

  6. EA April 19, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. Locums work as harder with no securities. Lots of uncertainties

  7. Mr B April 19, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    I worked out the differentials between pay for Locum and permanent positions and when factoring in sickness pay, annual leave and pension contributions I would now be better off as a permanent employee. I choose not to as I want the control of where and for whom I work.We should be as valued as our permanent colleagues for the work we put in without any of the securities.

  8. Blair McPherson April 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    So finding a parking space is the biggest problem facing social workers in Luton!